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Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Match Play: It's Not Over 'Til It's Over

For me, match play is fundamentally different from stroke play.  In stroke play, 2 bad holes can tilt the contest.  In match play, there are still 16 holes to be played, and they're all equally weighted.  And that's the essence of why I love match play.

The approaching Solheim Cup is probably (alongside the Ryder Cup) probably the most well-known match play tournament in golf, but match play is a format that easily engages golfers at all skill levels.  Still, the Solheim makes my heart beat faster.  At a deep and basic level, because I, too, have felt it, I understand and identify with the fierce rivalry that so engages Team USA and Team Europe in this biennial competition.

But match play isn't limited to the Solheim and Ryder Cups.  The format can frame golf rivalries and competitions at all levels of player skill.

Wes and I have always framed our contests within a match play format.  The contest is so much more balanced, even though there's some distance between his handicap and mine.  (Let's face it.  Wes is the better golfer.)  I get a shot on the most difficult holes, but we're going head-to-head on most of them.  In our 3-round match last week, everything came down to a putt on the 17th hole of the 3rd round.  That's really match play at its best, intense, close, sharp competition.  (We just can't count that awful 18th hole at Indian Valley-- both of us succumbed to golf disasters.)  It's not over until it's over in match play.

Barb always organizes an annual match play tournament for the Star Fort Ladies Golf Association that engages everybody and tends to run over 8 or 10 weeks because we're all responsible for arranging our own matches.  I still savor the match I played against the prevailing women's club champion several years ago.  Like Wes, she was by far the better golfer and so I had some shots on the more difficult holes.  But the match went back and forth, with me 1 up, with Lynn 1 up, with us all square, back and forth it went.  By the 16th hole we'd collected a gallery.  I really think everybody was astonished that I was still upright and playing golf.  In any case, we finished 18 all square and, without any prior arrangement in the tournament rules (Barb had apparently not anticipated this outcome for any of the matches), we made a pit stop in the club house and returned to the first tee.  All square at the end of the 19th hole.  On to #2.  I lost on a bad chip.  Lynn took the hole by one shot and won the match.  It's not over until it's over in match play.

I learned something from that match that has informed my game plan to today.  My putt begins with my chip.  No matter how good my putting, if I can't chip and get in close, I'm not going to win.  I began that day to work on my chipping, and it's still the shot I practice most, with everything from my 7 iron to my sand wedge.  Barb occasionally chips with one of her hybrids, and Wes has been known to use his 3 wood, but Wes uses his 3 wood to putt some times.

Then there's the Pumpkin Cup, which will get more blog attention later in the fall.  This annual match play tournament between the Star Fort Ladies Golf Association and the Woodfin Ridge Ladies Golf Association is modeled on the Solheim Cup, although the 4-ball format isn't used in the Pumpkin Cup.  The Pumpkin Cup began as a way to extend the interclub golf season, sort of a superbowl event in women's amateur golf.  Several years ago some women at Woodfin Ridge challenged some women at Star Fort to raise a team and spend a weekend in late October competing for a cheap pressed glass pumpkin in a match play tournament.  As you might imagine, the event has evolved.  There are team colors, Saturday and Sunday "uniforms," the emergence of a fierce rivalry, the loss of the glass pumpkin, the reclaiming of the glass pumpkin, disputes about the formula for the pairings, strategy sessions, all designed to whip all of us into a wild frenzy leading up to the weekend in late October when we take to the course and, with our vest best games, give it everything we have in every match.

Last year Woodfin Ridge hosted the Pumpkin Cup and at the end of Saturday the board looked dismal for the Star Fort team:  Woodfin Ridge - 10, Star Fort -0.  It wasn't as bad as it looks.  We had lost 7 matches by a single hole, some by a single putt.  Because we were defending the Pumpkin, we had only to play to a tie to keep the Pumpkin (our agreed-upon rule in order to avoid a late Sunday afternoon tie-breaker), but going in to Sunday we were faced with winning every match in order to tie the tournament up and keep the pumpkin.  We played out hearts out and when the day was don it was Woodfin Ridge - 11, Star Fort 9, and we'd lost the pumpkin.

But like Stacy Lewis and Paula Creamer in 2011, even as we stood to the side and as watched the Woodfin Ridge women celebrate their victory, we plotted our revenge and vowed to take back the pumpkin this October.  Because in match play, it's not over until it's over.