Match Play Formats: 5 Most Common Ways to Play Matches

Miguel Angel Jimenez of Team Europe celebrates after holing his putt on the 18th green against Nicholas Fung of Team Asia during singles match play at the 2014 EurAsia Cup
Miguel Angel Jimenez of Team Europe celebrates after holing his putt on the 18th green against Nicholas Fung of Team Asia during singles match play at the 2014 EurAsia Cup. Ross Kinnarid/Staff/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images

Match play is second only to stroke play as the most popular form of competition in golf. In fact, match play and stroke play are the bedrock forms of competition. And there are many different ways to play match play, all built around its core principle: players (or teams) compete to win individual holes, with the side winning the most holes claiming victory in the match.

There are dozens and dozens of different formats that can be played as match play. Many of them can be found in our Tournament Formats and Betting Games glossary.

However, the best-known match play formats are those used in the Ryder Cup. Here is an introduction to those match play formats, plus a few other of the most-common match play formats:

Singles Match Play

Singles match play pits Player A against Player B, hole after hole. If Player A scores a 4 on the first hole while Player B records a 5, Player A wins the hole.

In the Ryder Cup, ties are called "halves" and are not played off (each side scores a half-point for their team). In Ryder Cup-style competitions, this is common. However, in singles match play tournaments - something such as the U.S. Amateur Championship, as an example - a match that is all square (or tied) after 18 holes continues until there is a winner.

Doubles Match Play

"Doubles" means the matches are 2-vs.-2. These are team formats where the teams consist of two golfers. So in a doubles match play format, Golfers A/B form one side and play against Golfers C/D on the other side.

  • Fourball: In fourball, each side consists of two players. Each player hits his or her own golf ball throughout the round. On each hole, the low ball of the two players serves as that side's score. For example, on the first hole for Team A, Player 1 scores a 4 and Player 2 scores a 5, so the team score is 4. If Team A gets a 4 while Team B scores 5, then Team A wins the hole. Read more about fourball, including handicap allowances.
  • Foursomes: Foursomes matches pit 2-person teams against each other, with each team playing one ball, the two teammates alternating hitting the shots (so this format is often referred to as alternate shot). Example: Player A and Player B are partners. On the first hole, A tees off; B plays the second shot; A plays the third shot, and so on until the ball is holed. After both teams have completed the hole, the side with the lower total strokes wins the hole. Read more about foursomes, including handicap allowances.
  • Chapman System: Also called Pinehurst System, in Chapman the two golfers on a team both hit drives. Then they switch balls - A plays B's drive, B plays A's drive - for the second shots. After that, they pick the one best ball and play the alternate shot into the hole. Read more about Chapman System, including handicap allowances.
  • Greensomes: In this format, both golfers on a team hit drives, they select the one best drive, then play alternate shot from there. Read more about greensomes, including handicap allowances.