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The WEEI Country Club
Mano a Mano

By: Pro from Dover

The television networks hate it, tournament directors avoid it and galleries aren’t too crazy about it, either. We love it!

Match play golf is the subject.

The Accenture Match Play Championship ended Sunday in snow covered Tuscon, AZ and it reminded us why we love the format. (How much did you love seeing that weather after the winter we’ve had up here?)

The reason the TV networks hate it are at least threefold. First, there is absolutely no guarantee who will reach the weekend semis and finals. This year, marquee names were scattered along the tournament waste areas like so much road kill before the weekend. Tiger-out. Phil-out. Padraig, Lee, Graeme-out, out and out.

The second reason is it takes more manpower and equipment to cover the course effectively. In match play the results of the opening holes are just as important as the last few. Thus, more cameras, more technical staff , more wire pulled thus more expense.

The third reason is they allocate about four hours of broadcast time on Sunday and there is always a chance of a rout leaving lots of air time to fill. Fortunately for NBC, with a preferred end time of 6:00 PM EST, the Luke Donald-Martin Kaymer match ended at 5:55 PM so with a little wrap up, the network clock stayed pretty much on schedule. Luck reigned at 30 Rock.

Tournament directors dislike the format because crowds stay away in droves since the tournament field gets cut in half each day and if the favorites are eliminated on Wednesday or Thursday, many fans just don’t care what happens thereafter.

Plus, for lots of fans, traipsing around the course watching a particular match just isn’t very appealing. They prefer to perch near a green, eat, drink, chat and watch the parade pass by.

Those points duly noted, we like it for a lot of reasons.

For openers, the vast majority of average Joe, weekend play is in the format. The slogan for amateur golf should be “Two Dollar Nassau, Anyone?” Or “Let’s Play Skins.” Or “snake.” Fun stuff, those.

Match play is how we hackers play the game probably 90% of the time. It’s what we know and love. On a primal, first person experience level, we can relate to someone standing over a three footer needing to make it to stay even. Choking is not an unfamiliar phenomenon.

Medal play is uncomfortable for many of us because we  can’t avoid the random triple bogie or two and those generally blow us right out of contention. But with match play, a triple is just a lost hole… maybe.

We understand the mantra heard week in and week out from pros about it being a game against the  course and oneself, not a particular player. We watch someone yank a three footer and know he can make it up a hole later with an eagle. But in match play, a missed putt means a hole is probably lost or an opportunity is missed you will never get back.

We especially love match play when the competitors would rather have a root canal than play 18 holes together. Take the direct competition, stir in a little personal animus and it rises to a whole new level of earnestness.

We all know folks we would LOVE to beat.

Rumor has it that J.B. Holmes and Bubba Watson, who played in the semi finals on Saturday aren’t on each others’ Christmas card list. Having gone to high school together makes that even more interesting. Watching J.B. lose in 19 holes after gaining a five up lead through 10 was just riveting. In a post match interview he looked like he was about to burst into flames.

Many clubs have an ongoing debate about which format is best to determine the club champion. An informal survey of area clubs indicates the preferred format seems to be a combination of match and medal. There’s usually 36 holes of stroke play to reach eight or 16 competitors and then they play it down from there. We like that.

The argument often made against match play is that it doesn’t determine the best player and we don’t dispute that. Just witness Luke Donald winning the Accenture.

Yet, it’s good enough for the USGA Amateur Championship which, after the field is cut in stroke play from 312 to 64 players over two days,  goes to match play with a 36 hole final.

We’ve given up arguing with pals about the preferred format to determine the very best player. But for our money, seeing a couple of players fighting the course, themselves and each other for 18 holes is hard to beat.