Low-Handicap Match Play 2015

As noted in my last Road to Scratch update, I participated in my home club’s low-handicap match play tournament this past weekend. The format features the low 16 handicaps at the club that are available to play (ie – if someone is unavailable to play, they invite the 17th lowest, and so on), where the eight winners of round 1 go to the championship side, and the other eight go to the consolation side to start the elimination rounds.

I was the #14 seed and was put up against the #3 seed for Round 1, who was sporting a 0.1 handicap index. I was excited for the match and felt confident and relaxed beforehand. I was hitting the ball solid going into the event, and lets face it, I had very little to lose taking on a scratch golfer straight-up (no handicap strokes) as a 5-handicap. It reminded me of my days out at Spallumcheen Golf and Country Club, where I would often play with my good pal Myles Johnson, one of the pros at the club. I’m pretty sure Myles has been a plus-handicap since he could walk — the dude practically lives on birdies. I would challenge Myles to $20 matches without any handicap strokes. At the time, $20 was two hours worth of work in the blistering Okanagan sun. Some people may call me crazy, but it was a small price to pay to push myself and make myself a better pressure player.

The days of playing with Myles regularly are unfortunately long behind me due to geographic constraints, but I started to re-kindle those feelings of being hungry for pressure. Although it didn’t result in a win in either of my matches (Match 1 was a 4&3 loss, Match 2 was a 1-down loss), I left the tourney with yet more confidence than I had going into it.

The good

  • I got off to a good start in both matches. I was 1-UP through 3 holes in Match 1 and was 3-UP through 3 holes in Match 2. Collectively I played the first 3 holes in 1-under par over the two matches.
  • The things I’ve been doing well all season I continued to do well. I drove the ball great and hit my irons solid. The feeling of pressure never deteriorated those parts of my game.
  • Although my putting wasn’t quite where I wanted it, it was still an improvement from the first part of the season. There were some brief flashes of brilliance and it showed potential.

Areas for improvement

  • My wedge game inside 120 yards left a lot to be desired (to put it politely), and ultimately cost me both matches. In Match 1, I gave up 4 consecutive holes after seizing an early lead. Three of them were with wedges from the fairway that resulted in bogey. I replicated that feat in Match 2, quickly surrendering my hard earned 3-UP lead through 3 holes.
  • After reaching my goal of getting off to solid starts, I seemed to relax, but not in the good way. I softened a bit and lost the hunger I had out of the gates, almost as if I was expecting that it would continue all on its own. I need to find a way to maintain the hunger all throughout the match, no matter where it stands. Once I fell behind and my back was against the wall, I found it again and hit some clutch shots under a feeling of urgency. It was too little, too late, however.

Overall, it was a lot of fun getting out there with some of the best players at the club. I learned a lot and took away several positives. Throw in a couple beers after the rounds and it was a successful weekend. The re-match against my father-in-law didn’t materialize, but there is always next year.

One thing that surprised me was the amount of players who opted to take a cart in a low-handicap, competitive event, particularly on the first day where we were only playing one round. I was one of two players to walk in my group in Round 1, and I was the only player in my group to sweat it out and walk in Round 2.

I don’t think that anybody should be forced to walk in a club event if they don’t want to, or if they feel they aren’t physically capable of walking 18 holes. Club events should be fun for players and encourage participation, first and foremost. I was still a little surprised that more physically able players didn’t share my view that competitive events should be played walking, as golf was intended to be played. Maybe I’m just old fashioned.

What are your thoughts on taking carts in competitive events?

Happy golfing!




5 thoughts on “Low-Handicap Match Play 2015

  1. Josh, great write up; great experience for you. The complexities of match play are fascinating and I’m particularly interested in the mental aspect. Sounds like you did a lot right, especially driving the ball straight. That can be demoralizing for an opponent in a head-to-head contest. Why do you think you softened up when you had the lead?



    1. Brian,

      Thanks a lot. I think I was so focused before the match on getting off to a good start on that opening stretch of holes, that once I accomplished that, it almost felt like the job was done in my subconscious and I didn’t have a mental approach going forward until my back was against the wall and what I needed to do was narrowly defined. After the opening 3 holes, I think it might be useful (regardless of good or bad start), to draw a line on the scorecard and start a clean slate, and focus on the same thing the next 3 holes, and then the next 3…and just try and win each 3 hole match. Thoughts?


      1. Josh, I believe a stroke play event should be treated as a 18 hole journey. Or 72 holes; whatever. Match play should be treated as 18 miniature journeys. You better have a real short memory to be successful and hope your opponent has a long one. I’d hesitate to draw a line on the card every three holes for that reason. Fresh start on every tee, forget the last hole, and stay in the present as best you can. That line on the card works for me on bad starts or stretches of holes where I need a mental reset but I wouldn’t use it for match play. Keep piping that driver and you will frustrate your opponents and win your share. Good luck!


  2. Hi Josh,

    About your question about riding in a cart. Do you think the other players feel this gives them a competitive advantage? It takes a lot of energy to walk a course. Even if you do it regularly, in a competition you need to reserve all the energy you can. Could this be the reason? Or was it just so they could relax and enjoy time with their friends?

    Very interesting debate.

    I personally would take a cart, but then I don’t usually participate in tournaments.

    Best of luck to you,


    1. Hi Tina,

      Thanks for your input! Carting could certainly have it’s advantages to keeping you physically fresh. Particularly on a hot day when it keeps you shaded more often. Whether my competitors consciously thought that jumping in a cart would give them an advantage, or if they just wanted to relax and have a good time, I am not sure.

      Walking has its advantages too, as you have the ability to stay in your own world and regulate the pace at which you do things a bit more as opposed to being at the mercy of the person you’re riding with (if you are indeed riding with someone).

      An interesting debate indeed. There are certainly some pros and cons to both riding and walking in competition.


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