While the majority of casual golf in the United States is played at stroke play, match play takes center stage this week as the PGA Tour conducts the World Golf Championships – Dell Technologies Match Play. Generally, the Rules apply in the same way in both stroke play and match play, but of course there has to be some variation to account for the core differences between the two forms of play, most of which stem from the fact that only two players are involved in a standard match and that scoring is done on a hole-by-hole basis.
Let’s first take a look at some match-play basics (which are mostly covered in Rule 3.2):
- Only two players are involved in a match – In stroke play, the entire field has an interest in what every other player does, and the Rules must protect that field. For example, this means that in match play a player can choose to overlook a breach of the Rules by an opponent.
- Scoring happens on a hole-by-hole basis (rather than the cumulative total in stroke play) – Even if a player loses a hole by four strokes, they have only lost that one hole. A player wins a match when they lead by more holes than remain to be played.
- Concessions – A player can concede an opponent’s next stroke (or even a hole or the entire match) at any time.
- Handicaps – If a match is played using handicaps, strokes are allotted per hole based on the hole’s handicap rating found on the scorecard.
Next, let’s take a look at some changes to terminology in the new Rules that are used in match play. These changes were made as part of a larger effort to write the Rules in commonly used language.
- “Tying” a hole – This term can now be used to describe the result of a hole or the match. The new Rules allow for more common sports terms to be used, but you can also still use more traditional terminology. For example in this case, the hole can be referred to as “halved” or the match as “all square."
- “Score” of the match – Previously this was known as the “status” of the match.
- Asking for (or requesting) a ruling – Previously this was known as “making a claim.”
- Telling opponent about a penalty or telling opponent about number of strokes taken – Previously this was all called “wrong information.”
- "Dormie" – This term has been removed from the Rules (it referred to a player in a match who was as many holes up as remained to be played).
Finally, let’s take a look at some match-play outcomes in the new Rules of Golf that changed in 2019:
- There is no longer a penalty for stopping an opponent’s ball in motion when that ball needs to be holed to tie the hole and there’s no reasonable chance that the ball will be holed – this used to be a loss-of-hole penalty (you may remember this penalty being applied to Jordan Spieth in a four-ball match during the 2017 Presidents Cup).
- There is no longer a penalty for accidentally moving an opponent’s ball or ball marker on the putting green – this used to be a one-stroke penalty.
- There is no longer a penalty for mistakenly lifting an opponent’s ball on the putting green when you thought it was your own – this used to be a one-stroke penalty.
- When your ball in motion accidentally hits your opponent, their caddie or the opponent’s equipment, there is no longer a penalty and your ball is played as it lies (except on the putting green, where the stroke does not count and must be replayed) – you used to have the opportunity to cancel the stroke and replay it (this is now a consistent outcome across the Rules in all forms of play).
Jamie Wallace is the manager of Rules Education for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.