It was fun watching the pros competing one on one this past weekend. Match play involves more strategy, with each match, indeed each hole, a tournament within themselves. There was more of this format many years ago, and that’s too bad. I’d like to see more of it. I kind of picked and choose which matches were most interesting so it didn’t tie up a whole weekend planted in front of the tube. And I could really study the swings of pros I’m most drawn to, which is something I enjoy doing. Gives me ideas on swing mechanics. What works and what doesn’t. Like young Scottie Scheffler’s pretty wild, flying right elbow swing compared with the meticulous movements of Billy Horschel’s. Or the putting routines of this or that pro. It’s a good way to analyze your own swing as you observe the fundamentals of the various pros.
Some of the features are helpful as well, like the spot they did on Harvey Pennick, the venerable Texas teaching pro who mentored Tom Kite and Ben Crenshaw. Old school, for sure. Paraphasing what he once said of John Daly’s humungous backswing, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Pennick wasn’t into drastically changing swings. He was a pragmatist. A straight-shooter. He had a keen eye, unaided by technology of any kind.
But back to match play. I’ve used it, either playing alone or with a bud, by playing pars and birdies instead of concentrating on keeping score, or medal play. Of course, if you’re into tracking a handicap, you’ll want to keep score. But since I don’t play competitively anymore, I don’t care much about a handicap. So at the first tee we decide if we’ll just count pars (birdies are rare but basically count the same as pars) and the player with the most of these wins the beer at the 19th hole. It’s fun since you’re not worrying about what a big number on a particular hole is going to do to your final score, and, most importantly, it speeds up play. Screw up a hole before holing out? Just pick it up and move on. No harm, no foul.
You can make up other games as well, like closest to the green or pin on a par 3, or longest or straightest drive on a given hole or longest putt made for the round. Or even two-ball instead of standard one shot golf. Match play simply makes the game more fun, while still retaining its competitiveness. But, again, it wouldn’t work if you’re keeping a handicap or playing regularly in medal tournaments or trying to legitimately break 80 or 90. For me, those days are pretty much done, so I’ll just bear down on a buddy for a beer. These days, I play for relaxation and for fun, getting the most charge out of a solidly hit shot. Getting aggravated around a lousy score or shot doesn’t make it for me anymore.
What I’m suggesting is that golf needs to be more flexible. Taking six hours to play a round doesn’t make it for many people these days. Following every rule that applies to tour pros may not be reasonable or appropriate for recreational players. When I encounter a ball in a divot, I bump it out, no penalty, and give myself a nice lie. I know it’s not golf as it was meant to be played, but it’s still golf, though modified for my age and condition. I think more people will take on the game if the rules were more malleable. In that regard, I’m not old school at all. I’m just part of the school that hopes to play this amazing game until…well, I can’t.