Match and Stroke Play – More Balance?

Would a Little More Match Play Make Sense for PGA, LPGA?

The only reason I’m asking about a more balanced schedule of match versus stroke play is when one really thinks about it, each format provides a complete different set of sensations and mental states. Every time the Ryder or the Solheim comes around, the experience is a refreshing experience, just because I’ve been watching stroke play all year. I wouldn’t want to miss stroke play, but while the tours are talking about how to expand viewership of the game and a larger audience for what has always been a phenomenal draw, it might be worth putting on the table.

I chanced upon a website that features an ongoing debate between golf writers and editors called “That’s Debatable” (very clever, guys). In the match play versus stroke play debate, 2 person matches give a few points for their favorite format, and they tend to be spot on. One gave an interesting “good bumper sticker” quote that sticks in my head just like it’s supposed to – “Stroke play tests your soul. Match play reveals it.” All right, maybe that’s a little on the slick side, but I think I know what he means.

The four days of beating the field is a tremendous test of nerve’s and skill’s staying power. Just think about how seldom one leads through all four days. It must be tremendously exhausting. On the match play side, you might not have to grind the best you can over four days, but there’s a down side to that. In a match, you only have one day, and that means deliver – now! Get too far behind, and you won’t have three days to make a comeback. This fellow loves the “window to the soul approach,” whether a person concedes putts, relaxes and laughs a bit. Do that in the presence of the typical PGA field, and the players will probably draw straws to throw you in the lake.

Another says that the stroke format develops more drama. That’s correct in a sense, but I would say it provides a long-term, overarching marathon-style drama. Who is still standing at the end of 72 holes? Winning it all in one round of 18 while facing down only one other person is a completely different experience for this viewer, but just as dramatic. It’s watching War and Peace, which takes an entire afternoon, to watching a western gunfight. A little staring down, someone draws,  it’s over, and we’re just as exhausted.

I might as well confess now that I did not have Match II in my consciousness,   in which one former great played against an often former great, while two  former great quarterbacks provided some color and flair to the proceedings. I was barely aware that the “match” was even happening. Ruminating on why I missed seeing it without so much as an “Oh, no! I wanted to see that!” made me think. It’s not that Phil and Tiger aren’t what they used to be. If someone offered me a Nicklaus, Player, johnny Unitas and Roman Gabriel event playing on crutches, I’d be there without fail. i understand how great these guys were. I just didn’t imprint to them as a young kid, like I did the older guys. They’re exciting, but not viscerally as much a part of me.

I don’t know if I would enjoy these celebrity matches as much as I would the all-pro ones. I hope that there would still be some fun. On the PGA, the guys look like they’re playing in the Undertakers Olympics, and I get it. There’s a lot of money at stake, and people doing hard stuff need to concentrate. We’re out there playing with our friends. They are out there playing with their opponents, who can be friends if they want to be, off the course.

In a question of how matches would affect the speed of the game, I’d have to see how it works. It feels as though it would all go a little faster. The camaraderie of a local, city-wide or national team is a lot of fun, with matching uniforms and colleagues rooting for you. I like that better than the icy stares.

Then again, War and Peace is without a doubt a great book. But,  I wouldn’t mind at all if the PGA and LPGA would sprinkle just a little more match into the scheme of things. I also love a good gunfight on the streets of Dodge.

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