Match Play vs Stroke Play (Complete Overview)


Golf is an amazing game.  One that provides a great deal of fun, entertainment, competition and overall joy in being in the outdoors.

One area that makes it extra special is the different formats that can be played.  This helps golfers from a range of ability levels have fun in competing against each other when the handicap system is added.

The two most common forms of competition are match play and stroke play.

Even when the competition is at an all time higher, golfers are expected to treat the game and their opponent with respect!

Match Play vs Stroke Play

The difference between the two is that in stroke play the total number of shots are counted and added up at the end of the round.  Golfers can compete against many others by comparing total scores for 9 or 18 holes.  While in match play a golfer is competing directly against another golfer in the group with each individual hole counting.  The golfer with the most amount of individual holes won, wins the match.

Both match play and stroke play have their pros.  Below, we will dive into the pros of each to help you decide which format is best for you and your group of friends or an upcoming competition or tournament.

Pros of Match Play

  • Each hole feels significant
  • Best for the volatile golfer
  • Great for small tournaments or groups

Pros of Stroke Play

  • Tests a golfers true ability over 4-5 hours
  • Best for the steady golfer
  • Great for larger tournaments or groups

Pros of Match Play #1: Each Hole Feels Significant

The joys and thrills of match play is that each hole is significant.  If you can get off to a great start and win the first couple of holes, your confidence is feeling great and you are ready for the round.  

The head to head nature of the format brings out the best and worst in golfers. You have to face your opponent, watch every shot they hit and hopefully beat them in more holes than they beat you.

There is nothing like coming down to the 18th hole when you are all squared and you have played a 4 hour round.  Everything you have done that day is coming down to the final several shots that you hit.  Talk about pressure!  But that is why many people play the game!  To see if they can come through when it matters the most.

When you stand over a 5 footer on the 18th hole, winner take all, it is a ton of fun.  One current competition that brings out the best in golf is the Ryder Cup.  United States vs the European team and the energy is high, the tension is real and it often comes down to those final several holes. 

The emotional roller coaster is amazing!

Going for a par 5 in two over water and being able to be aggressive is what makes match play exciting!

Pros of Match Play #2: Best For the Volatile Golfer

If you are someone that plays great golfer for 14-16 holes a round, but has 1-4 blow up holes, then match play might be best for you.  Match play allows the golfer to have a really bad hole or two without a significant penalty. 

If you blow one out of bounce often or like to be aggressive on par 5s and try to get home in two, then match play is perfect for you!  

In match play you are not counting the total number of strokes to play the round of golf, instead you are comparing hole to hole, so if you take a 7 on the first hole and your opponent makes a 3, you are still only down 1 hole.  In stroke play you would be down 4 shots and the uphill climb would be real!

Overall, the golfer that is on the roller coaster throughout a round will enjoy the thrills of match play!

Pros of Match Play #3: Great For Small Tournaments or Groups

If you are going to be together with a small group for a several day tournament and create bracket style games, then match play can be a great deal of fun. 

Oftentimes, in some of the larger tournaments like the USGA Amateur Tournaments they will start with a large group and eliminate a certain percentage of golfers in stroke play before turning to match play for the remaining part of the tournament.

Match play also works out great when there is a foursome that wants to play a small game.  You can play 4 ball where two golfers are paired up and compete against the other team in match play. 

For many casual golfers, match play is great because if they are out of the hole or are struggling, they can simply pick up and rely on their partner or concede the hole.  The grind of playing all 18 holes and counting every shot is not required in match play!

Pros of Stroke Play #1: Tests A Golfers True Ability Over 4-5 Hours

A round of golf can take a long time, sometimes up to 4-5 hours.  I always took pride in being able to physically and mentally perform over this time.  When you can go out and play stroke play and manage your golf ball around the course, there is something really nice about signing the scorecard knowing you played really well that day. 

Stroke play requires the golfer to keep the ball in play, avoid the large number and produce a score on each and every hole.

The PGA Tour requires a golfer to be able to do this over 4 days.  Everyday the golfer must produce a score for 18 holes and see who over the course of 72 holes did it the best.  When the weather is rough whether that is heat, cold, wind or rain the golfer must produce. 

Sometimes in match play, if your opponent is playing poorly that day, you only have to play a little big better than him or her.  However, in stroke play, you are often competing against a large field, so over the 4 round tournament, you must produce!

Regardless of the format, quality shots are rewarded!

Pros of Stroke Play #2: Best For the Steady Golfer

The golfer that takes pride in producing a score and is willing to grind out pars and take the occasional birdie is more suited for stroke play.  Of course the volatile golfer might shoot a really round score in a 1 round tournament, but in a 4 round tournament there has to be some consistency.  You can’t shoot 68 one day and then 78 the next day on the PGA Tour and win!

The straight driver who can make some putts and save pars will do well in stroke play!  The person who makes a lot of birdies with some high numbers mixed in might be better off playing match play!

When matching up with someone for match play it might be best to pair two golfers with different styles together and hope that they compliment each other. 

One steady golfer and one up and down golfer can be dangerous in match play.  In stroke play, I will take the best overall golfer that can manage his or game for 4-5 hours!

Pros of Stoke Play #3: Great For Larger Tournaments or Groups

The best thing about stroke play is that it allows for large tournaments.  Some fields can be up to 144 golfers and after several rounds it can be reduced by having a cut. 

However, the scores can be compared across the board as long as the same tees, pin placements and course is played that day.  While the weather can vary, most golfers accept that as long as the other variables are set for the day, it is a quality method to award a champion for the event.

The PGA Tour has added several match play tournaments, but for the most part utilize stroke play over a 4 round tournament. 

This also helps ensure that on the final day of the tournament, the best golfers that week are in the same group or several groups competing in what sometimes can feel like match play, but the golfer has to get the ball in the hole.

Some of the most entertaining final 9 holes of a tournament take place at the Masters every year. You can hear the roar of the patrons as a player makes a pivotal birdie or eagle on one of the final 9 holes! The tension is high and the excitement it impressive!

How To Win More in Match Play and Stroke Play?

Utilize A Launch Monitor

I would recommend two great products to help improve your golf game so that you can win more matches and shoot lower scores.

The first one is a portable launch monitor. Being able to understand key numbers such as the following:

  • Ball Speed
  • Club Speed
  • Launch Angle 
  • Spin Rate
  • Spin Axis

Here are our top three recommended.  Check out the links below for current pricing:

This information is a game changer.  If you head to any PGA Tour event, you will see just about every golfer working with this type of technology throughout the week.  Now for a fairly affordable purchase price, you too can have similar data to help your game!

The Skytrak has been a game changer. The data provided and being able to play 12 months a year has been amazing!

Train for Speed

There are ways to increase your swing speed!

Regardless of your current ability level or swing speed, we could all use additional speed.

This speed drill below will also help you improve your swing mechanics.  It is worth checking it out regardless of your current ability level.  The swing mechanic improvement along with the additional distance will help your game!

Let’s face it, regardless of the current state of your game we all want more speed.  It has become very clear the need for speed in the golf swing and there are ways to add speed!  The analytics on all levels of golf show how important speed and additional speed are in reducing golf scores.

Once you have identified your swing speed, get to work and train every other day for best results!

It is time to start training for some additional speed.  This is a drill and training protocol that I would highly recommend.

SPEED DRILL: Increase your swing speed through overspeed training

  • Check out SuperSpeed Overspeed Training Protocols
  • Train every other day for 10-15 minutes.
  • See a 4-6% increase in swing speed as early as the first training protocol.

The number one thing that has helped me gain significant distance is the SuperSpeed Training System.  This overspeed based system where you train every other day for about 10-15 minutes with different swing sticks can help you increase your swing speed by 5-8% which can be 20-30 yards.  Who wouldn’t want an extra 20-30 yards.  Plus it helps improve your mechanics.

Check current prices on SuperSpeed Training System, here.

The analytics are pretty clear on the importance of speed in the game of golf.  Would you rather hit your approach shot from 130 yards of 160 yards?  The answer is pretty simple!  We know that over the course of time, we will hit shots from 130 yards much closer than from 160 yards, whether we are an average amateur golfer, a scratch golfer, or a PGA Tour member!  

The key is having shorter approach shots, so we can hit the ball closer to the hole and then make more putts!  Speed is king in the game of golf!  Make sure you check out SuperSpeed Golf!

Key Terms For Match Play

Concede: In match play a golfer can give a hole or a putt to their opponent.  When this happens with a putt they often will say, “That’s good.”

All Square: When two golfers are tied in match play.  For example, if both golfers have won 2 holes and tied two, they would be considered all square.

Dormie: When a golfer is ahead by the same number of holes remaining.  For example, if a golfer is 2 up with 2 holes left to play.

Match Play vs Stroke Play Final Thoughts

Golf is an amazing journey. I would recommend playing both formats of golf and getting to experience yourself the challenges and thrills of each format. Each format provides its’ own feel and brings a level of excitement that is worth chasing and working hard to get better at your game for!

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