In two-man play, working together can save strokes and win matches

The next time you’re playing a member-member or member-guest at your club, you might try the two-heads approach. Working together throughout the round—especially on the greens—will help you win matches.

In the 1997 Ryder Cup at Valderrama, I played a practice round with Ignacio Garrido of Spain. Seve Ballesteros, our captain, was testing us out as a four-ball and foursomes team. So we paired up and went off the first tee. Up at the green, we marked our balls and I walked over to have a look at Garrido’s putt. I had some thoughts about the speed and how it might break, but he wanted no part of it. “No, no,” he said, kind of shooing me away. “I read it my way and that’s it.”

That partnership lasted all of one hole. Nothing against Garrido—it’s how he plays—but when it comes to putting, I am a firm believer that two heads are better than one. It’s vital to me in two-man play that my partner wants to give me a read and that he wants to hear my read. Every pairing I’ve ever played in worked that way.

Here are some ideas about how to get the most out of your partnership:

  • Understand that the routine is unusual. In regular weekend Nassaus, golfers don’t focus much on cooperative strategizing. But in order to play intense team golf in competition, you have to practice it. Find out the steps each of you goes through in reading putts, and discuss how aggressive your team wants to be under various circumstances.
  • Be ready for the extremes. The best part of any four-ball match is that hole you steal, the one you win after the other team had counted you out. Three balls are within fifteen feet in two, say, and your ball is on the collar sixty feet away, and you hole the chip to win. That’ll shake your opponents up for sure. It’s a great attitude for match play: Win holes by making shots you wouldn’t normally be trying to make. The other extreme is when you have a fifteen-footer and two strokes for the win. It can be hard to lag it effectively; I’ve seen players hit that putt about halfway. Practice a few of them before the competition begins.
  • Don’t suggest something you can’t pull off. When your partner has a fifteen-footer for birdie and you’ve got a five-footer for par, think carefully before you say, “I’ll go ahead and sink this so you can have a free run at it.” It only hurts the team if you say that and miss. Nothing is dead certain, but you’ve got to feel very sure of yourself in that situation. If not, just mark the ball and get out of the way.