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Match Play Rules

Also, pay attention to the conditions and be ready to respond. In the 1992 World Match Play Championship at Wentworth, England, I defeated Jeff Sluman in the finals in large part because I won three of the first four holes. How?It was cold and damp and I knew, partly from local knowledge and partly from noticing how short the ball was flying on the range before the round, that the conditions required two extra clubs for approach shots. Jeff, I believe, was adding only one club and consistently fell short for those first few holes.

When You Fall Behind Early Above all, be patient. Continue to play each one-hole match at a time. The worst thing that you can do is try to make things happen by taking silly gambles and then falling even further behind. You're far better off getting a few halves, catching your breath a bit and gaining some confidence, and letting the other guy carry the pressure for a while. When you do finally manage to win a hole, your opponent will likely start to sweat. One more win and you're probably right back in the match.

When you're down, don't show it. If your head is bowed and your shoulders are slumping, you're only fueling your opponent—he knows he's got you on the ropes. My simple rule is: Don't show him anything, even if it requires a good bit of acting. He'll be wondering, "Hmmm, is it affecting him or not?" If he's asking questions about you, that's good, because that's less thought he's giving to his own game.

The Middle Part of the Match Push hard to win every hole no matter what, of course. But it's helpful to have an overall strategy before the match begins. Often there are individual holes or series of holes you may want to attack, and others where you need to accept that par (or even bogey) is a good outcome and may be enough to win. Before the 1997 Ryder Cup at Valderrama in Spain, for example, we Euros recognized that the front nine was where our best opportunity to win holes lay—because of the back nine's difficulty, fewer holes would be exchanged there. This knowledge helped us go out strong and then play smarter later in match. There may be similar ways to pick your spots, too.

When You Are Matched Against Certain Types of Players If your opponent drives it a mile off the tee, it gives you one advantage—you get to hit your approach shots first. If you can park your six-iron near the hole, he'll feel unwanted pressure to match you, even if he's using a nine-iron. In fact, hitting your approach shot first can be such an advantage that on rare occassions you may deliberately want to hit shorter than an opponent. Say you've noticed him having trouble with mid-iron shots. On a crucial hole, use three-wood instead of driver off the tee so you can hit your approach shot first and apply extra pressure. His memory of botching recent approach shots could really twitch him up.

One of the most frustrating opponents to play against is someone like Seve Ballesteros; I went up against him several times in World Match Play championships. He was highly erratic off the tee but a wizard around the greens. You've got to expect someone like that to get up and down from anywhere. Don't let those miracle saves get to you, because sooner or later the pressure will magnify his weaknesses and he's going to whack it into the woods one too many times. So be patient and wait for that to happen rather than abandoning your game plan.

The End Game One of the old sayings in match play is "two up with five to play never wins." Obviously that's not always true, but the psychology behind it is useful to understand. When you're two ahead and lose a hole late in a match, it's easy to tense up and focus on how the match could be slipping away. Meanwhile the other guy is feeling the momentum shift and has everything to gain by being aggressive. If he wins another, he's in the catbird seat and your confidence, with only two or three two holes to play, may quickly melt away. The key when you're up with just a few holes to play is never to think about when or where the match will end. Don't think, "Well, I should be winning this on number sixteen." Instead, remind yourself to focus exclusively on trying to win the current hole.


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