Tuesday, February 21, 2012

I received my education in match play when I was 18. I was an American Junior Golf Association All-American, and I was playing against Alton Duhon in a 36-hole match-play final. Duhon, who won the U.S. Senior Amateur in 1982, was 52 at the time and I was out-driving him on every hole by 30 yards, easy.  But he was tough, and he wore me out. He was so consistent, hitting every fairway. He gave me nothing and he made me pay for everything I got. I didn't play badly. I made more birdies than he did, but I made more bogeys, too. Duhon was 1 up after 18 and beat me, 3 and 2. Here's what I learned: 1. Never Give a Hole AwayNo matter how bad you're behind, never surrender a hole. Even when it looks like you have no chance to win the hole, hang in there as long as you can. Make your opponent beat you. Make him putt that three-footer. It's harder to win a hole than people think, and if you make your opponent fight for everything he gets, you'll have the advantage in the long run. Plus, you never know what can happen. You can win holes you never thought you could win as surely as you can lose ones that looked like certain wins. 2. Play the Course, Not the Person Don't let your opponent take you off your game. You can't change the way you play and still play well. Instead, focus on executing your regular game. The best match-play players are consistent, guys like Colin Montgomerie and Geoff Ogilvy who are in every fairway and on every green in regulation. When you're driving it in the fairway and hitting greens, you put a tremendous amount of pressure on your opponent. 3. Expect Your Opponent to Make Every Shot This is another rule to help you stay focused on your own game. Whenever you're opponent is getting ready to shoot, just assume he is going to hole that bunker shot, or sink that 30-foot putt. When he does make that long putt on a crucial hole, you'll be prepared for it, and it won't take you off your game. 4. Don't Take Unnecessary Risks You don't have to be super-conservative, but if you have a borderline play, err on the side of caution. You want to avoid risky shots because you don't want to hand over a hole. You're trying to make winning a hole as costly as you can for your opponent, and if you misfire going for a par 5 in two, you're giving away a freebie, something you can't afford.

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