Many of us might assume that there isn’t too much debate about the characteristics of a good match player. Clearly, the ability to play your game in the best or worst of conditions better or worse can be useful, conversely we know that bad match players are people easily put off their game or cannot perform when they need to most. Therefore, if you want to win the better part of your matches you simply need to play consistent. However, this idea strikes me as too easy – too simple. If that is all there was to match play than your local course would be overflowing with excellent match players. I must confess, there is a great deal more in match play than there appears to be.
I would propose that preparation for match play begins the moment you step into the clubhouse. Many golfers have been known to play their “best” game before they even step onto the green. Often, good match players will try to get inside your head by making coy suggestions about certain aspects of their game (or yours for that matter). They may comment on certain aspects of the green, or lavish praise upon you for a hole well played. In short, remember that golf is a far more mental, than physical game, and be prepared for chance remarks that might have greater implications than you might otherwise expect.
I believe that many of the “chance remarks” made on the first tee, or during the course of a match, have an important affect upon the result. If you are a person who is prone to the comments or suggestions of an opponent, you must try to let these chance remarks pass through your mind like “water through a sieve.” Some people might laugh at the suggestion that a person of strong willpower cannot impose their desires upon a person of weaker. I even have a perfect example of this concept in action.
In an important match, one of the players was sinking his putts from all parts of the green. After some time, his opponent, in calm and casual manner said, “You know, I just can’t make out how it is you manage to sink so many putts with such a strong grip.” I can only assume that this comment led the golfer to question whether or not his grip was strong, because his short game suddenly broke down. On the next putt he had to play he was thinking more of his grip than of the putt – that simple remark put him completely off his game.
Broadly speaking, the play of an opponent affects most golfers in two ways: the method of play, and the result of that method. Furthermore, we must consider the temperament of an opponent, and his or her attitude towards life in general. Since all types of people play golf, the novice must expect to encounter: the talkative player, and his opposite, the self-centered or introverted golfer. You must be mentally prepared to face whatever comments, criticism, or flattery that an opponent might give, and allow them to flow through you, unnoticed.
Undoubtedly, it will be of benefit to all of you to vary your opponents as much as possible and to play frequently with strangers. It calls for greater effort to play your best game under such conditions, and vice versa, it can be detrimental to play with one or two of your friends and to avoid other opponents. Many golfers get into the habit of pairing always with a friend; someone whom they can play against with very little mental effort. Remember, you are better off playing against someone that you can never beat, than someone you can always beat. Your mind is your greatest weapon – guard it well!