Most players know about Stroke Play - every shot is
counted and added up and the player with the lowest score of all wins.
But Match Play (the oldest form of golf) is not as commonly understood.
Perhaps the following explanation will help.
In a USGA amateur Championship, there are two days of
stroke play qualifying to determine exactly the 64 players who will
make it to match play. The "Match Play Tree" is then established --
much like a tennis tournament or NCAA basketball - and players are
seeded according to how they played during stroke play.
Match play is a competition played by holes rather than
total strokes for the round. In USGA amateur Championships, two opponents
play against each other and while there may be other players on the
course, each group is its own match and has nothing to do with the
rest of the field. The winners of each match keep advancing until
there is only one player left. With 64 players, this occurs after
For example, let's look at the imaginary match between
players A and B below. A match always starts at "All Square," that
is, the match is even, no one has an advantage or disadvantage. A
wins the 1st hole, so is "1 up." After A wins the 2nd hole, A is then
"2 up." (It doesn't matter how many strokes the hole is won by, no
more than "1 up" can be the result of the scores from any one hole.)
The players halve the 3rd hole, so there
is no change in the status of the match. B then wins the 4th
hole, which leaves A only 1 up. B wins the 5th hole, so
the match returns to All Square ("AS"). B then wins the 6th
hole, and takes the lead 1 up. And so on.
Notice that a score does not have to be recorded in
match play (see the "x" on the 6th hole for A). The result
of the hole (won, loss, or halved) simply needs to be determined.
In fact, "conceding" is allowed. Player A, for example, can concede
the 6th hole to B without finishing it. Players may also
concede that their opponents will hole out with their next strokes;
therefore, if B wants to concede A's one foot putt on the 7th
hole for a 4, B can - and A doesn't have to putt.
The match goes on in this fashion until one player is
leading by a greater number than the number of holes left to be played.
For example, if B is 5 up with 4 holes left to play, the match is
over as A can not possibly come back. B is said to have won the match,
"5 and 4." If the players are still All Square after the 18th
hole, the match is continued hole by hole until a winner is determined.
So, if A and B play the 1st and 2nd holes again,
halving both, and A wins the 3rd hole, A is said to have
won the match, "21 Holes."
We hope this will assist in your understanding of match
play and specifically the method of scoring that is used. Please contact
the USGA Rules Department with any additional match play questions.