January 8, 2016
Match play and medal play are the two basic ways to play golf.
In medal play, the total strokes for the round are compared to the competition, on a gross or net basis.
In match play, the golfers compare strokes hole-by-hole instead, again on a gross or net basis. Unlike medal play, however, one botched hole won’t ruin the chance to win, which is why it’s a popular way to compete. On the other hand, this method of scoring can significantly alter the tactical choices to be made during the game.
I saw several examples of some classic match play elements Sept. 29, in a compelling contest during last fall’s U.S. Senior Amateur at Hidden Creek Golf Club, in Egg Harbor Township, NJ.
Bill Leonard of Dallas, GA defeated Raymond Thompson of Drexel Hill, PA, in 19 holes, but for most of the round there was no way to tell who would be the likely winner. For anyone with a vested interest in either player, the hole-by-hole tension must have been terrific.
Thompson’s approach on the par-4 first hole sat less than six feet away, in prime birdie range, while Leonard’s first putt had to come from 35 feet out. This being match play, however, Leonard made his birdie, and Thompson missed.
That proved the first rule of match play–always assume your competitor will make any putt, and never assume you have the advantage.
Leonard gave his lead back immediately on the next hole, thanks to a fine approach shot by Thompson to gimme range. The Georgian looked to be in even more trouble on the par-5 third, when a left-leaning drive landed among trees. Leonard’s second shot bounced against a few more. He then took two more shots to reach the green.
However, Thompson’s third shot from a hardpan lie in the left rough 50 yards out ran across the green and into high fescue. His fourth shot bounced over the green, leading to a double bogey. Leonard’s bogey putt was conceded, giving him back the lead.
That’s another match play truism: when your competitor’s already in trouble, don’t join him.
Leonard made it 2-up on the next hole with a 20-foot birdie, and the two men played the next two holes even. Thompson made another great tee shot on the par-3 7th, cutting the lead by one, but then blew a great chance to go all-square on the next hole, despite an over-300-yard drive to the edge of the green on the short par-4 8th.
Leonard hit into such trouble off the 8th tee that he could only hit a left-handed shot and advance his ball about 15 yards. His third shot ended 25 feet from the hole.
However, Thompson’s long drive was not in a good place. A large mound in the middle of the green sat between his ball and the hole, with his ball on a down slope. He tried to putt over the mound, only to leave the ball perched on top, 20 feet from the hole. Thompson ended up bogeying the hole, tied with Leonard. As Thompson said after the round, “I should have putted along the side of the mound, and left myself a ten-footer.”
In other words, it often plays to be conservative in match play.
Leonard kept his 1-up advantage until the 11th hole, when Thompson’s tee shot on the short par-3 finished inside 2 feet from the hole. Thompson’s bogey on 13 put Leonard back to 1-up, but the match went right back to all-square on the par-3 14th. Leonard drove into fescue left of the green, and made bogey.
Thompson returned the favor on the par-4 15th, with a pulled approach iron into light fescue beyond the green. Leonard’s routine par brought him back to 1-up.
Both men parred the 16th, matching each other’s score on the same hole. This only happened 8 times in 19 holes.
Thompson made it all square again on the par-5 17th, with a fine birdie that Leonard couldn’t match. They tied each other again on the 18th, and went back to the first hole to continue.
This time Thompson was farther from the hole, but only by a foot more than Leonard–8 feet to 7 feet. The difference was that Thompson putted downhill, and Leonard putted uphill. Thompson missed his birdie putt by a few inches, and Leonard made his–match over.
A visibly tired Thompson said, “I didn’t quite get it done today, but it was fun.”
Leonard said, “You’re supposed to keep plugging away until they tell you to stop.”
Leonard’s 2015 Senior Amateur came to a stop later that afternoon, during the Round of 16. He lost 1-up to the qualifying medalist, Randal Lewis of Alma, MI, in another close-fought contest.
Bonus coverage of the 2015 U.S. Senior Amateur
The following did not appear in a Cape Gazette column, but is provided here as bonus coverage of the Senior Amateur.
During the 2015 U.S. Senior Amateur’s Round of 16, I stood by the 11th green and watched how each golfer played the short, uphill par-3, with its false front, pot bunkers, fescued mounds, and other challenges to success.
As far as scoring, the group did well. There were several birdies, and the rest were pars–no bogeys or the dreaded “others,” even for those few who missed the green.
What became more distinctive among the players was the wide range of attitudes on display.
Many were quietly serious. A few were visibly annoyed, especially if a birdie putt didn’t go in. Others were noticeably angry as they approached the hole from the tee, a sign perhaps of troubles on the 10th hole or somewhere previously in the round
Of all sixteen, only one pair of golfers acted like they were having a pleasant regular round of golf, smiling and chatting with each other–and they were the last two of the day.
Jack Hall of Savannah, GA took 20 holes to win his morning Round of 32 match, forcing a pushback in his starting time against Tom Brandes of Bellevue, WA. Brandes had won his match that morning against Paul Simson, a former two-time Senior Amateur champion, 1-up.
Brandes is a four-time winner of the Washington State Senior Amateur, and reached the Sweet 16 in last year’s U.S. Senior Amateur. Hall reinstated his amateur status in the 1980s and won several Georgia amateur events, including the state’s 2013 Senior Amateur. He is also a veteran of several USGA championship tournaments.
Hall and Brandes hit decent approaches to the green, each with less than 20 feet for possible birdies. They complimented each other, and moved easily about the green as they prepared for their shots.
Brandes hit first, a cross-green putt that arced to the left and came up well short of what he expected, leaving a 4 1/2 footer for par. He was surprised, but gave no hint of annoyance or anger, which set him apart from some of his competitors.
Hall had an uphill putt for his birdie, and put a good roll on it. The ball stopped less than an inch from the hole, and then rolled backward a tiny bit.
Hall, also surprised but not annoyed, suggested to Brandes that his ball must have had some backspin on it.
Brandes conceded Hall’s par, and calmly rolled his his own par putt. He then told us all, “That’s the second time I’ve hit this green, including the practice rounds.”
The two chatted some more as they returned to their carts for the rest of their round, which Brandes eventually won, 1-up.
I caught up to Brandes at the clubhouse later that afternoon, and told him what I observed. He smiled and said, “I’m just trying to have some fun out there.”
The way Hall and Brandes behaved during that hole was just right. Both highly skilled amateurs with significant national competitive experience, they still managed to remember that they were playing a game, and acted that way.
Brandes continued to have fun in his next two rounds. He defeated Patrick Murphy of Provo, UT 5 and 4 in the quarterfinal round, and went to 21 holes before winning the semifinal round against Steven Liebler of Irmo, SC.
Against Liebler, a former PGA Tour player and now a noted South Carolina amateur champion, Brandes made a four-foot birdie to be only one down at the turn. Liebler’s only bogey of the day, on the 13th hole, brought the match all square, where it stayed until the 21st hole, a par-five.
Liebler laid up for his third shot to 109 yards, by his reckoning. From over 235 yards out, however, Brandes hit an admittedly thin three-wood over a yawning bunker, on a line that required a 210-yard carry to avoid disaster. His ball shot forward on the greenside edge of the bunker, and rolled to a foot from the green.
Liebler’s third shot spun back on him to 25 feet from the pin. Brandes hit a nice chip to one foot for the conceded birdie, and Liebler was unable to convert his birdie putt, ending the match.
Brandes was rewarded for his bold approach, but also he said he would have “shaken Steve’s hand” and conceded if his ball went into that bunker.
For Brandes, after all, it really is a game.
In the finals, the week of multiple rounds of golf seemed to take its toll on Brandes, when he lost to Chip Lutz of Reading, PA.
The Washington golfer hit into an unplayable lie on the first hole, leading to a double bogey for him and a conceded birdie for Lutz. He was never able to bring the match back to all square. More bogeys on the 4th, 11th, 13th, and 15th led to defeat.
“I had to play perfect to beat him, and I didn’t,” a tired-looking Brandes said. Then he grinned and said, “Hey, somebody gets to lose.”
How Chip Lutz won the Senior Amateur in his last three rounds
The quarterfinal round of the U.S. Senior Amateur featured a single golfer from the Mid-Atlantic, Chip Lutz of Reading, PA.
The title insurance executive has an extensive and successful USGA competitive resume, including several semifinal appearances in past Senior Amateurs.
For this round Lutz went up against the qualifying round medalist, Randal Lewis of Alma, MI, also no spring chicken when it comes to USGA amateur competition. Lewis won the 2011 U.S. Mid-Amateur.
Lutz played extremely steady golf throughout the round, and Lewis frankly didn’t.
Lewis made the first putt attempt on the first hole, lagging it close for a conceded par. Lutz converted his birdie attempt, and never went down to Lewis at any point in the round. The best Lewis could do was bring it back to all square, which he did on the fifth hole with a nice 15-foot birdie.
They remained all square until the 8th hole, a shortened par-4. Both golfers were in the left rough, well within 40 yards of the hole after their drives. Lutz chipped up to 4 feet or so, but Lewis’s chip shot came up well short, more than 20 feet from the hole. His first putt rolled well past, and missed his par attempt. He conceded the birdie for Lutz, going one down again.
After matching pars on the ninth hole, Lewis hit a slightly fat iron from 175 yards out, to over 40 feet from the hole. Lutz fired a great second shot from 170 yards to inside 4 feet. Lewis failed to lose his turn after his first putt, and missed his second for another bogey. Once again he conceded a birdie to Lutz.
Both golfers parred the next two holes, but Lewis pulled his approach on the par-4 13th, with the pin set right and back. Lutz was only 15 feet to the right of the hole on his second shot.
The first putt from Lewis rolled to a stop 10 feet from the hole, and again he couldn’t convert for par. Lutz easily made par, and went 3-up.
Both parred the 14th hole, and Lutz opened the window slightly for Lewis with his second shot on the par-4 15th. From the right rough 177 yards out, Lutz clipped a tree branch, dumping his ball into a bunker 45 yards from the center of the green. Lewis was on in 2, seven feet short of the hole.
Lutz then “nipped” his 60-degree sand wedge out of the bunker, take very little sand and creating enough spin to bring the ball back to four feet above the hole. The resulting pars for both players made the match dormie with three holes to go.
Lewis continued have trouble with his iron play, however, pulling his approach on the par-4 16th into the rough left of the green. Lutz, steady as ever, put his second shot close and just under the hole. Lewis tried a flop shot, but it rolled 8 feet past the hole. At that point, he conceded the match, 4 and 2, and congratulated Lutz.
A very happy Lutz said, “I’m very fortunate to have made it this far, and very pleased with how I played today. It’s been a great run so far, and hopefully I have enough in the tank for this afternoon and tomorrow.”
He almost emptied the tank on the back nine, but Lutz held on to win his semi-final match against Tim Jackson of Germantown, TN in the the afternoon round. Jackson also has another sterling amateur record, including two Mid-Amateur victories.
Lutz went three-up early in the round, but said he “made some mistakes” that brought Jackson closer to going all square. As Lutz put it, “I was really struggling a bit coming home,” perhaps in part because he’d never gone past this round in three previous tries. On the sixteenth hole, another Lutz mistake lowered his advantage to one hole. Fortunately for Lutz, he managed to hang on and halve the last two holes, winning 1-up.
In an interview, Jackson admitted that he couldn’t overcome the advantage Lutz earned on the front nine: “At this level, everybody is good. When you get to the quarterfinals, all of these players are really good players, and you can’t fall asleep. I fell asleep on that front side, and that cost me the match.”
Lutz continued his fine play in the finals, beating Tom Brandes of Bellevue, WA 5 & 4 on a cold, rainy morning. Once again, Lutz was very steady, with a couple conceded birdies and a string of pars. Brandes was nowhere near as sharp as he’d been in previous rounds, and could not catch up to the Reading, PA champion.
“I’m really happy,” Lutz said. “Let’s get out of this rain!”