Match play is a scoring system for golf in which a player, or team, earns a point for each hole in which they have bested their opponents; this is as opposed to stroke play, in which the total number of strokes is counted over one or more rounds of 18 holes. In professional golf, a small number of notable match play tournaments use the match play scoring system.
Unlike stroke play, in which the unit of scoring is the total number of strokes taken over one or more rounds of golf, match play scoring consists of individual holes won, halved or lost. On each hole, the most that can be gained is one point. Golfers play as normal, counting the strokes taken on a given hole. The golfer with the lowest score on a given hole receives one point. If the golfers tie, then the hole is halved, e.g. in an 18 hole match, the first hole is a par-4 and player 'A' scores a 3 (birdie) and player 'B' score a 4 (par); player 'A' is now 1-up with 17 to play. In the same match on the second hole, a par-5, player 'A' takes 8 strokes and player 'B' takes 5 (par); player 'B' wins the hole and the match is now all square with 16 to play. On the third hole, a par-3, both players take 3 strokes and the match is 'all square' with 15 holes to play. Once a player is 'up' more holes than there are holes remaining to play the match is over. i.e., if after 12 holes player 'A' is 7-up with six left to play, player 'A' is said to have won the match '7 and 6'.
A team that is leading by 'x' holes with 'x' holes remaining is said to be "dormie-x", or simply "dormie", meaning that they need one more halved hole to win the match (or alternately, that the other team must win all the remaining holes outright in order to halve the match). i.e., if player 'A' is 2-up with 2 to play, he is dormie; the worst outcome for player 'A' at that point is a tie, unless the format calls for extra holes to determine a winner.
In a tournament event where the score is all square after the last hole, usually 18 or 36, the players will play on until a player wins a hole (sudden death). In the Ryder Cup and other similar team events, the match is not finished this way, and the teams each receive a half point. In such events there are points accumulated over several days, playing different formats, and the total determines the winner.
Scoring using handicaps
Scoring match play using handicaps is not done exactly the same way it is done in a stroke play event. In 18-hole stroke play where player 'A' is a -10 handicap and player 'B' is a -19 handicap, player 'A' gets one stroke off his score on the ten hardest holes (by handicap rating on scorecard); player 'B' gets two strokes off his score on the hardest hole and one stroke off on the other 17.
In match play, player 'A' would play as 'scratch' (zero handicap) and player 'B' would get one stroke off his score on the nine hardest holes. In other words, the 10 handicap becomes zero and the 19 handicap becomes a 9.
In team match play competition, where team 'A' consists of player 'A1' (a -10 handicap), and player 'A2' (a -15 handicap); where team 'B' consists of player 'B1' (a -19 handicap) and player 'B2' (a -30 handicap). Player 'A1' plays as 'scratch'; 'A2' gets one stroke off his score on the five hardest holes; player 'B1' gets one stroke off his score on the nine hardest holes; 'B2' will take 2 strokes off the 2 hardest holes and 1 stroke of the other 16. Exception: the USGA does not restrict the handicap of the low partner but some local clubs and organized tournaments do. i.e, in team play, if no player can have a handicap more than 8 strokes higher than his partner, 'B2' would play as if his or her handicap were -27 (high partners handicap of 19 + 8 = 27).
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