1. Play the course, not your opponent. While you certainly want to be aware of how your opponent is playing and how the match stands, it’s important to avoid the trap of getting swept up in the emotion of the match. It’s a waste of energy and focus to personalize the competition.
2. Always play first. Whenever possible, play first, because if you hit a good shot, it will increase the pressure on your opponent and possibly force him or her to hit a poor shot. Even if you don’t hit the shot you want your opponent may get too relaxed and play ultra safe. In other words your opponent breaks the strategy of playing you and not the course.
3. Get the ball into the hole first. Again, this is a way of increasing the pressure on your opponent. You shouldn’t rush your putt by any means, but do putt out if possible.
4. Always assume the worst. This might be the most important rule of match play. There’s nothing that sets you back quicker than assuming you have a hole won, only to see your opponent pull off a miracle shot or sink an impossible putt. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be optimistic or positive, far from it.
5. Take it one shot at a time. Just as in medal play, you have to try very hard to play one shot at a time. Don’t dwell on the past, since you can’t do anything about what has already happened. When the time comes to play, concentrate on the shot at-hand and only the shot at-hand. This is not to say you are not aware of your opponent’s situation, but your focus must only be on the shot at-hand.
6. Play to your par. Now, depending on your handicap, par is the score you figure you need to shoot in order to win a hole. For higher-handicappers, “par” might be a bogey or even a double-bogey. You might get to a point late in the match when you have to gamble, but establishing your par and sticking to a game plan that allows you to match that number will win you more than your share of holes–and matches. I know this is easier said than done but it does give you a strategy that helps you play the course.
7. Watch your opponent. People are creatures of habit. But under pressure, they tend to get out of their routine. They walk faster or slower. They become indecisive over what shot to play or which club to use. When you notice that your opponent is struggling or has gotten out of his or her routine, it’s a golden opportunity to stay relaxed and try to increase the pressure even more. Also it’s something you need to be aware of your own mannerisms and how you perform at your optimum level.
8. Don’t look ahead. There’s a temptation when you are in front during a match to look ahead to the next round of the draw. The danger is that your concentration will slip, and your opponent might be working especially hard to beat you.
9. Study the Rules of Golf.The Rules of Golf can be complicated and difficult to truly understand. But by knowing the rules, you know all your options, and this can help you save strokes. Jack Nicklaus, for example, used to read the Rules of Golf cover-to-cover before the start of every season. This is not a reason to get petty, looking for rules infringements from your opponent; it simply means you can have confidence in your game in dealing with different procedures that present themselves. Number one rule – carry a rule book in your bag.
10. Never give up. It’s a simple truth that in match play: “It’s never over until it’s over.” You might pull off a miracle shot or your opponent might surprise you and miss a relatively simple shot, and let you back in the hole or even in the match.