April 17, 2014
By Matt Winkeljohn
The Good Word
Once upon a time, golf was competed chiefly the way Georgia Tech’s Yellow Jackets will play it Saturday, when they will participate in the first Capital City Club Championship, and each hole will be a competition within itself.
Match play, where each player on each hole either wins a point by scoring better than his single opponent, halves it with a tie, or gets nothing by being outscored – rather than competing against a larger field of players and adding up the scores from all holes – has not died, but is rare now compared with a century or so ago.
Stroke play rules the day at the pro level, in college, and down through the juniors ranks as well.
Tech sophomore Anders Albertson guessed Thursday that he’s probably played in 15 or 20 match play events in his life. He has played in hundreds and hundreds of stroke-play tournaments.
So when the No. 5 Jackets square off against No. 26 Auburn at the Crabapple Course in Milton Saturday at 7:30 a.m. while No. 6 Georgia and No. 19 Florida State simultaneously meet (rankings/pairings are national as determined by Golfstat), it will not be the same.
After those matches, the winners will face off to determine a champion and the losing squads will compete for third place. It will take 3.5 points to win (tie breakers may come into play).
This will be Tech’s first match play event of the fall or spring, and the Jackets won’t see it again unless they make it through NCAA regionals and through three rounds of stroke play in the NCAA championships to become one of eight quarterfinals for the national title. Then, the final three rounds are match play.
“It is significantly different,” said Tech coach Bruce Heppler. “On the very first hole, you’ll have a putt to win the hole, or half it. The winning and losing starts right away . . . in a tournament, a lot of times it’s not until the 52nd hole or so that you really start seeing a winner emerge.”
The game has gone away from the match-play format in part for commercial reasons. As a spectator sport, it is more feasible to run 144 golfers through in groups of three or four than to watch six groups of foursomes trot through.
That is how they will play Saturday; the first group off the tees will be Georgia Tech’s No. 6 man (freshman Vincent Whaley) vs. Auburn’s No. 6 while the No. 6 men for Georgia and Florida State will compete against each other at the same time in the same foursome.
Then, the No. 5s will go off, and then the 4s and so on.
Heppler is a fan of match play; he helped push the current NCAA Tournament model through a few years ago in part because he believes match play makes for compelling TV and his sport needs to fetch television money if possible.
Albertson, though, said he tries to avoid treating the game differently even when the format changes. He’s wired one way and doesn’t want to mess with his componentry.
“For me, golf is just golf,” he said. “I just go out and do the exact same thing. I don’t equate my score to a win or a loss on each hole. Maybe there are situations where you have to play based on what your opponent has done or has not done, but I try to stay the same so I’m not doing something that I have not done.”
The Jackets eliminated UNLV in last year’s national match play quarterfinals, coincidentally on the same Crabapple course where they will play Saturday, before falling to eventual national champion Alabama in the semis.
Albertson won a significant match play event as a junior golfer, and admits that the format not only brings exciting changes in the way the sport is viewed by fans, but in the psychology of the game.
“I think there are more emotional swings that you have to be prepared for both your way and your opponent’s way,” he said. “In stroke you can make a par, a bogey or a birdie and you don’t really equate it to winning a hole.”
Just don’t look for Albertson to try to bomb the ball off the tee if his opponent happens to crush one before him; match play is not all about “matching” your opponent.
Really, it’s just about golf; the score keeping just happens to be a bit different even if, as he said, some situations may merit tweaks in approach.
“I don’t really try to adjust my game to much as I think there is a right way to hit each shot,” Albertson explained. “I’m not going to be dumb or do something that is crazy like to for a par 5 just because I’m one down.”
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