Match play might be my favourite form of golf. There is something exhilarating about going head-to-head against an opponent, where each hole feels like a match within the match, and momentum can change faster than a two year old’s mood.
As I mentioned in a previous post, I am teamed up with my instructor, Fred Teno, in the Riley’s two man best-ball match play event, organized by the Calgary Golf Association. The event is played without handicap strokes, and many of the best amateurs and club professionals in the city enter the event (one pro is allowed per team). It was a good turnout this year, so winning seven matches is required to be crowned champion.
I’m happy to report that we have had some early success.
Round 1 – May 4th
Our first match was played at our home club, The Calgary Golf and Country Club, against a team from Wintergreen Golf and Country Club. They were a couple of near-scratch golfers, one of whom turned out to be the reigning club champion at Wintergreen, so we knew it’d be a tough match.
Fred set the tone right off the bat by obliterating his tee shot down the middle of the 1st fairway, which filled me with the confidence to do the same.
My game turned a little bit scrappy on the first several holes as I got accustomed to being back in a competitive setting. Although I contributed a bit, we were only 1-down at the turn primarily because Fred held us together and weathered the storm of our opponents draining a couple long birdie putts.
After a pep-talk from my father-in-law who came out to watch the last few holes on the front 9, I turned my game around on the back. I birdied the par-3 11th hole from about 6 feet to get us back to even. Then Fred followed that with a great two-putt birdie on the par-5 12th to answer their birdie and keep us even.
We were still all-square on the 17th tee, a 200-yard, slightly downhill par-3.
Fred went first and pushed his tee shot into the trees right of the green. As a student of his, I’m fairly certain he did this on purpose as means of testing my nerve and seeing how confident I was in my swing. Luckily, I passed the test, and hit it pin-high to about 12 feet. After our opponents both missed the green, I rolled in the birdie to win the hole and go 1-UP.
After Fred and I both found the 18th fairway, Fred hit a great approach to the middle of the green and was first in with his par to clinch the 1-UP victory and propel us into Round 2.
Round 2 – May 15th
We drew home course advantage once again in Round 2, and found ourselves up against a pair of +1 handicaps from Redwood Meadows Country Club. Another challenging match was a given.
We played follow-the-leader on the par-5 first hole. I followed Fred’s lead down the first fairway and blasted it by him by about half a yard, and then followed him into the green-side bunker in two shots. He hit his bunker shot to pick-up birdie range, which was good enough to go 1-UP out of the gates after our opponents missed a short birdie try.
This match turned gruesome quickly. It wasn’t always pretty, but we all fought hard, and momentum seemed fleeting for both teams. We surrendered our early 1-UP lead and made the turn with the match all-square.
Although my long game was slightly off on this day, I was extremely confident with my short iron and wedge play and felt like I could take dead aim with those clubs. This helped us take a 1-UP lead through the 10th hole after I hit a good wedge shot straight at a dangerously tucked pin.
We continued to put pressure on them and forced them to make some clutch putts to halve the next couple of holes. We kept the pressure on them by both going for the par-5 13th hole in two shots. Fred’s shot was particularly impressive with a 3-wood from a fairway bunker which ended up just short of the green, while mine was a 5-wood off a good lie in the rough from about 260 yards which rolled through the green. After we both hit our chips to 3-feet, I gave Fred the green light to roll in the birdie first to take a 2-UP lead.
We both got a little too excited about the prospect of shutting the door on the match and missed the par-3 15th green to the right, and their par ended up being good enough to cut the lead back to one.
Although we were 1-UP with three to play, the momentum had shifted which put a jump in their step, and it showed as they striped their tee shots down the middle of the par-4 16th fairway. Tensions rose, and the friendly chatter started to subside. All of us eventually made a mess of the hole and halved it with bogey, which felt like a dodged bullet after they were in ideal shape off the tee.
On the par-3 17th hole, Fred and I both left our shots on the front fringe. One of our opponents did the same, while the other made a mess of the hole and picked up. After mediocre shots from the fringe, I was left with about 8 feet for par, while Fred and our opponent had slightly less than that.
It was a pivotal moment – if we make and they miss, the match is over. If we miss and they make, we’re all square with one to go. I was up first and poured my 8-footer right in the middle, giving our opponent a do-or-die 5-foot downhill slider, which he confidently made.
We were off to 18th hole with a 1-UP lead yet again, and after we both found the fairway, Fred hit a clutch approach shot to the green which was good enough to seal up the victory…bring on Round 3! There are 32 teams remaining, which equates to five more wins in order to be crowned champion.
So what have I learned and/or been reminded of during these early season matches?
- 18 holes is a lot of golf. Good and bad things will happen to everyone, and the momentum will change hands several times. Always stay patient, and never give up.
- There wasn’t a single shot I hit in either of those matches where I didn’t feel nerves to some degree. You can’t expect to rid yourself of nerves in competitive golf. It’s about learning to perform with nerves by embracing and managing them. You can still be confident in your ability to perform while feeling nerves.
- You don’t need to hit heroic shots every hole to put pressure on your opponent. Hitting smart, solid shots that stay in play applies plenty of constant pressure.
- A win is a win in match play, no matter how you get there. You only need to find a way to beat the person/team you’re playing.
- Match play is awesome! (ok, I already knew that)