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Match Play vs. Stroke Play - Strategic Considerations?


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Typically, when I golf, I am playing non-competitive rounds with friends or family, and focus on shooting as low a score as possible.

Once a year, I have a competitive event with friends (mock Ryder Cup), where we play fourball, foursomes, and match play.

There are some obvious situations where you make different strategic decisions than you would in a stroke play round (if your fourball partner is in for 5, no sense lagging a putt for 4, for example).

I have a few hypotheticals below that are more marginal, curious how TST would approach these and hoping people might have others to think about.

-Singles match opponent OB on a long par 4, standard play is driver but there is trouble both left and right

-Alternate shot partner is a poor bunker player, opponents have a 20-footer for birdie. Flag is directly behind a bunker, safe target leaves 40 feet with a good shot

-Risk reward drivable par 4 in fourball, general approach when one partner is a bomber and one is accurate

 

 

 

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14 minutes ago, Seeking70s said:

-Singles match opponent OB on a long par 4, standard play is driver but there is trouble both left and right

-Alternate shot partner is a poor bunker player, opponents have a 20-footer for birdie. Flag is directly behind a bunker, safe target leaves 40 feet with a good shot

-Risk reward drivable par 4 in fourball, general approach when one partner is a bomber and one is accurate

I don't really know your handicap, and this may affect things.  My advice if I were a caddy for a professional might differ.

* Opponent is OB is great, but I think the right play in the first situation is to hit the longest shot you can keep in play, just as if you were getting two strokes here.  Can you keep your driver likely in play?  If so, hit it.  I am not a believer that fairway woods off the tee are more accurate anyway, at least for our level.  And at my handicap, trying something like "hit 5-iron, 7-iron" to imitate a long drive is just as likely to mess up.

But I'm a generally accurate driver, particularly for my handicap.

* Go for the safe target.  Opponents are likely to make par and unless you're dormie or near dormie, you don't need to win this hole.    No one at any level really makes 20 footers with any regularity anyway.

* Accurate hitter goes first.  Once they are safely in play, again hitting the longest club they can likely get into play, then the bomber can go for it.  If not, the bomber has to put one in play.  

-- Michael | My swing! 

"You think you're Jim Furyk. That's why your phone is never charged." - message from my mother

Driver:  Titleist 915D2.  4-wood:  Titleist 917F2.  Titleist TS2 19 degree hybrid.  Another hybrid in here too.  Irons 5-U, Ping G400.  Wedges negotiable (currently 54 degree Cleveland, 58 degree Titleist) Edel putter. 

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1 hour ago, Seeking70s said:

-Singles match opponent OB on a long par 4, standard play is driver but there is trouble both left and right

If they hit OB, you want to just keep it in play. 

They are lying three, hitting 4 after going OB. You are lying one, hitting two. So, even if you end up in the rough, just keep it in play. I would pull a club that minimizes the chance of losing a ball or going OB, while still giving me a good chance to hit the green or put it near the green for an easy short game shot. Unless they stick the ball close to the pin on their 4th shot, and make bogey. You want to optimize making par. I would say the odds are they are making double bogey a good amount of the time. 

1 hour ago, Seeking70s said:

-Alternate shot partner is a poor bunker player, opponents have a 20-footer for birdie. Flag is directly behind a bunker, safe target leaves 40 feet with a good shot

PGA Tour stats

20-FT chance is like 14% chance to make birdie. expected strokes is 1.87-ish. 

40-FT, expected strokes is like 2.08. I think around this range, you slightly more likely to 3-putt than 1-putt. 

You could say 83% of the time they make par from 20-FT, and it should be around 90-95% chance to 2-putt for par from 40-FT. 

Amateur is different than that, but I think it is still comparable that the most likely (by a big margin) is both teams making par. 

Odds of making par from a bunker is probably under 50%. 

1 hour ago, Seeking70s said:

-Risk reward drivable par 4 in fourball, general approach when one partner is a bomber and one is accurate

Being 4 ball, pending if this is 4 scratch golfers or playing with handicap. Par is usually a very good score in these sorts of formats. 

I would always say, play your shot zone that gives you the best chance to make par. If the drivable par 4, but has a ton of hazards around the green, then maybe not worth it. Bunkers might be OK to deal with pending the bunkers and your bunker play.  If it is just rough, not really a chance to lose a ball. Bomb away. 

The shorter guy can just play how they normally play. 

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26 minutes ago, saevel25 said:

Odds of making par from a bunker is probably under 50%. 

It's probably worse than that -- sand saves are around 50% on tour in general, and this situation would be an amateur short-sided in a bunker.  

-- Michael | My swing! 

"You think you're Jim Furyk. That's why your phone is never charged." - message from my mother

Driver:  Titleist 915D2.  4-wood:  Titleist 917F2.  Titleist TS2 19 degree hybrid.  Another hybrid in here too.  Irons 5-U, Ping G400.  Wedges negotiable (currently 54 degree Cleveland, 58 degree Titleist) Edel putter. 

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It is best to take match play one hole, and one shot, at a time.  There is no need to play it safe just because your opponent is in a bind.  When you have the upper hand...use it.

In der bag:
Cleveland Hi-Bore driver, Maltby 5 wood, Maltby hybrid, Maltby irons and wedges (23 to 50) Vokey 59/07, Cleveland Niblick (LH-42), and a Maltby mallet putter.                                                                                                                                                 "When the going gets tough...it's tough to get going."

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Thanks for all the replies. So far it seems like the consensus is that the situation has to be pretty unusual to warrant a different decision than in standard stroke play, which seems intuitive enough.

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3 hours ago, Seeking70s said:

-Singles match opponent OB on a long par 4, standard play is driver but there is trouble both left and right

No reward for winning a hole by more than one stroke in match play, you could lay up and be on the green in 3 and still be a stroke ahead on the hole in this scenario.  The only way you should lose the hole is by making a mistake of your own.  They're likely looking at 6 as a best case, smart play says take any danger out of the equation.  If they make three fantastic shots for a 5, tip your cap and move on, it wouldn't make the safe play wrong.

3 hours ago, Seeking70s said:

-Alternate shot partner is a poor bunker player, opponents have a 20-footer for birdie. Flag is directly behind a bunker, safe target leaves 40 feet with a good shot

40 feet with a good shot?  A good shot also clears the bunker if you take dead aim....this would depend on a few other factors to me.  How much MORE confident do you feel about hitting the safe area?  How good is your partner at lagging a putt from distance?  Odds are the answer is to take the bunker out of play, but your opponents are looking at par at the worst, so you need to weigh whether your "safe play" makes par a certainty, or if you're just trading the risk on the second shot with the bunker for different risk later in the hole to get down for par.

3 hours ago, Seeking70s said:

-Risk reward drivable par 4 in fourball, general approach when one partner is a bomber and one is accurate

Depends how big the risk is...if water is in play, then you could be taking one partner out of the hole completely if it doesn't pay off.  If the risk is just rough or sand and they could recover, go for it.  Obviously the accurate partner can play as they normally would, but I'd just want the power guy to at least be in play so you still have two live balls on the hole.

-Eric

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I'll post my personal choices, and then look at the other answers

3 hours ago, Seeking70s said:

-Singles match opponent OB on a long par 4, standard play is driver but there is trouble both left and right

Know your own game, hit the shot you can get in play.  If you struggle with driver accuracy, don't be afraid to hit something shorter, but only if you have a real increase in accuracy.  I'm just about as accurate with my driver as I am with any shorter club, so I'll probably hit driver, unless there's a "squeeze zone".  I might lay up short of the green, though, if there's some real trouble.

3 hours ago, Seeking70s said:

-Alternate shot partner is a poor bunker player, opponents have a 20-footer for birdie. Flag is directly behind a bunker, safe target leaves 40 feet with a good shot

No matter your partner's skill from the bunker, the play is for the center of the green.  Greens in regulation are like gold, especially in foursomes  The chances of your Opponent making a 20-footer are pretty small, your chances of 2-putting from 40 feet are pretty good.  Getting a half is rarely a bad thing.

3 hours ago, Seeking70s said:

-Risk reward drivable par 4 in fourball, general approach when one partner is a bomber and one is accurate

Can the "accurate" guy reach the green?  If so, let the bomber go first, if he's in play you get a second chance of reaching the green with the straight-hitter.  If you play safe with the first player, you can only have one chance to hit the green.  But if the accurate guy has no chance of hitting the green, he should play first.  A shot in play frees up the bomber, but he can play safe if the first shot is in trouble.

Dave

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4 hours ago, Seeking70s said:

-Singles match opponent OB on a long par 4, standard play is driver but there is trouble both left and right

Depends on the dispersion of your driver and the alternate club, how narrow the gap is between left and right trouble, and your length. As amateurs, you figure opponent hitting their 3rd off the tee has an expected score between 6 and 7. So you don't want to make any choices that bring double a lot more into play. For instance, it could be your driver dispersion is bad and you've got a pretty high chance of also going OB. So then you might want to hit 4i and maybe even then lay up. Say your driver dispersion isn't super tight, but you're pretty short, and if you tee off with 3h then you're going to have to smoke another 3h to get to the green, and each of those shots brings a meaningful risk of OB or some other bad outcome. Maybe then you want to hit driver anyway.

TLDR opponent going OB shifts the various odds and increases the chance (potentially a lot) that hitting less than driver is the right play.

 

4 hours ago, Seeking70s said:

-Alternate shot partner is a poor bunker player, opponents have a 20-footer for birdie. Flag is directly behind a bunker, safe target leaves 40 feet with a good shot

Even pros are only trying to stiff a sucker pin right over a bunker if they're in the hunt on Sunday. Aiming 40 feet past seems excessive unless you've got a big dispersion long/short with the club you're hitting. But regardless, 20 foot putts don't sink that often. I think playing for par and a likely tie is the right play regardless.

 

4 hours ago, Seeking70s said:

-Risk reward drivable par 4 in fourball, general approach when one partner is a bomber and one is accurate

Accurate player lays up with whatever club maximizes chances of no worse than par. Then bomber goes for it to see if they can get a two putt birdie.

Matt

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4 hours ago, Seeking70s said:

-Singles match opponent OB on a long par 4, standard play is driver but there is trouble both left and right

- No need to be greedy here.  They are lying three (two stroke penalty), you are lying one.  Play for par as the best they can do is hole out for bogie.  

4 hours ago, Seeking70s said:

-Alternate shot partner is a poor bunker player, opponents have a 20-footer for birdie. Flag is directly behind a bunker, safe target leaves 40 feet with a good shot

- Play to the safe part of the green, no need to sucker pin into trouble.  In LSW, Erik covers why playing to the safer part of the green is smarter course management.  20ft for birdie is likely a two-putt for par, just as a good lag putt from 40ft is a two-putt for par.  Halve the hole and move on.  

4 hours ago, Seeking70s said:

-Risk reward drivable par 4 in fourball, general approach when one partner is a bomber and one is accurate

- When we play our casual men's best ball, we always let the accurate guys go first then we unleash the bomber.  I would do the same here, let the accurate guy get theirs in play as close as they can.  This sets up the bomber to hit a good driveable shot into the green for the win!  IF they OB the ball,  you are still looking at a decent attempt for birdie by the accurate one.    

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I’ll always have a better chance at match play over stroke play. When I fire a snowman, I’m pretty much done. But in match play it’s just one hole.😃

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