Out of Bounds: Matchplay is golf in its rawest guise
The mano-a-mano nature of it brings back notions of old hand-to-hand combat
Spanish golfer Severiano Ballesteros during the World Matchplay Championship at Wentworth in 1984. His brother Vicente is acting as his caddy. Photograph: David Cannon/Getty Images
Fan, or not? Of matchplay, that is!
The one good thing about its once-a-year appearance on the main circuit is that the speed of play, simply by the nature of concessions at the WGC-Dell Technologies Championship over the next few days, will be faster than the snail’s pace that has become the norm in strokeplay week-in and week-out.
Unlike the Ryder Cup which has a dynamic all of its own, because it is that rare being of a team contest in what is essentially one of the most selfish sports of all, this WGC matchplay brings the sport back to its roots. The mano-a-mano nature of it brings back notions of old hand-to-hand combat, a fight to the end.
It’s no wonder that the late, great Seve Ballesteros thrived in such a competitive environment. More than providing a stage to showcase his flair and exuberant shot-making, it was the perfect form of one-on-one mind games which invariably saw him emerge as the winner. Was he the greatest of all the matchplayers? Probably.
Of course there was a time when the US PGA Championship was a matchplay affair (from 1916 to 1957, with strokeplay qualifying determining who advanced to the knockout phase) but it was found that the format was too demanding on those who reached the end game with some players required to play as much as 200 holes over five days of competition.
Anyway, this form of the sport is rare enough these days and, in a way, the creation of the round-robin stages has diluted the ultimate meaning of matchplay as players potentially have a second bite even if losing their opening round matches. No more biting of the dust in defeat, so to speak.
The words of Rory McIlroy in the build-up to this latest edition of the WGC championship were interesting, in providing an insight from a player’s perspective on the difference between adapting for matchplay as against the weekly grind of strokeplay.
“Matchplay is a very pure, virgin format of golf. It’s probably how the game was invented . . . . I think there’s two different ways you can approach (it). You play the person that you’re playing against or you play the course and you don’t really react or respond to who you’re playing against. This is a great week to practice your attitude and how do you respond to someone making a birdie or chipping in or getting a lucky bounce. It’s like feeling you’re playing in contention and you’re playing with something on the line,” said McIlroy.
Matchplay is golf in its rawest guise, with no place to hide. You wouldn’t want it week-in and week-out - otherwise it would lose its lustre, as the US PGA in its time discovered - but for this week the old game will test the mental as well as physical attributes of players in deciding who ultimately is the last man standing.
I’m a fan!