The 4 keys to match-play success, according to a Top 100 Teacher

Want to succeed in match play? Top 100 Teacher Jeff Smith explains how you can give yourself an edge in your next competition.

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Match play — a competitive format in which you play against your partner for the best score on a hole-by-hole basis, as opposed to comparing cumulative scores at the end of an 18-hole round — is a fun and often dramatic way to play the game.

For players who are used to stroke play, match play offers a refreshing change of pace. While hitting two balls OB can wreak havoc on your stroke-play score, mistakes made on a single hole in match play don’t multiply. Instead, a win or loss is always always worth only one hole. That can make recovering from a bad hole a little bit easier, because mistakes can be overcome much faster.

Because match play is so different from stroke play, the way you should prepare changes too. According to GOLF Top 100 Teacher Jeff Smith, who teaches at Eagle Springs Golf Club in Colorado and Timbergate Golf Course in Indiana, here’s what you should do to set yourself up for match-play success.

Identify your “superpower”

“What I want to do is remind the player of what his or her superpower is,” Smith said. “Maybe they’re a terrific driver of the golf ball. They hit it long, they hit it straight. That is now a weapon in match play. Put the ball down the fairway and make an aggressive play there, because that’s going to have an impact on the opponent.

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“If their wedge is their superpower, how many times can they play to that place, where their superpower gets them to the hole?” Smith continued. “If they are terrific at short game, up-and-downs, how often can be in a situation to save themselves in match play and frustrate their opponent?”

Avoid your weaknesses

Smith recommends maximizing the things you’re good at and avoiding situations that involve shots where you’re not as proficient.

“If I’m not so great with my long irons, then let’s not put myself in a position where I have to hit that under pressure,” Smith said. “Because that’s usually where the mistakes happen in match play.”

Employ some gamesmanship

Another thing Smith says he likes to do to prepare his students for match play is to discuss what kind of gamesmanship they plan to employ with their opponent.

“Are they going to concede putts or not?” Smith said. “Do they understand the superpowers of their opponent? In order to win, if you know who you’re playing against, and they’re a terrible under-pressure short-putt putter, you might not want to give so many [putts] to them. Let’s just see them all.”

Build your confidence

In practice sessions leading up to your match, Smith suggests focusing on those potentially big winning plays: up-and-downs and six-footers. Then, he says to finish it off with some confidence boosters: hit as many as 50 short putts that must touch the flagstick in the middle of the cup before going in, or they don’t count.

“That way, you walk in there knowing for sure that you’re going to make a ton of three-foot putts,” he said. “If you can hit 50 three-footers that hit the flagstick in the center of the cup, you’ve got a lot of confidence.”

For more tips from Top 100 Teacher Jeff Smith, click here.

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Golf.com Photographer

As a four-year member of Columbia’s inaugural class of female varsity golfers, Jessica can out-birdie everyone on the masthead. She can out-hustle them in the office, too, where she’s primarily responsible for producing both print and online features, and overseeing major special projects, such as GOLF’s inaugural Style Is­sue, which debuted in February 2018. Her origi­nal interview series, “A Round With,” debuted in November of 2015, and appeared in both in the magazine and in video form on GOLF.com.

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