Alternate Shot: Opinions on a match play major

Originally Published: February 20, 2005 World

It was almost a full century ago that Grantland Rice wrote, "Eighteen holes of match play will teach you more about your foe than nineteen years of dealing with him across the desk."

Most weeks on the PGA Tour, players are -- in a sense -- dealing with each other "across the desk." They play golf in groups, chit-chat on the driving range and maybe even grab a meal together, but any tour member worth his weight in public relations will tell you that golf is all about playing your best against the course, rather than focusing on beating an individual competitor.

That theory goes out the window at this week's Accenture Match Play Championship, where players don't have to be great, just better than their opponent that day.

Which got us to thinking: If match play is such a terrific format, why not incorporate it into one of the four majors? Golf World's Ron Sirak and's Bob Harig debate the issue in our version of match play -- Alternate Shot.

Should one of golf's four majors be match play format?

Talk about missing the boat, all the PGA of America had to do was look at one of its own events -- the Ryder Cup -- to see how compelling match play can be. If they had been paying attention, the boys from Palm Beach Gardens would have realized they should change the PGA Championship from a stroke-play event back to match play, which is what is was before 1958.

Match play is golf in its purest form -- two players going head to head. If the major championships are the events that determine the best players in the game then clearly one of those majors should be match play. And the PGA Championship is the obvious candidate. The Masters is the Masters -- an invitational -- and the U.S. Open and the British Open have too much history to fiddle with. Switching the PGA Championship to match play also would help enhance the final major of the year. The format would be its hook, its relevance.

The question is this: Is is too late? Does the Accenture Match Play Championship -- the only World Golf Championship event that really makes sense -- make another match play event redundant? I say no way. A match play event late in the season when players have their games in top form could really produce some fireworks. Sometimes to move ahead you have to take a step backwards. Let's have the PGA Championship go back to the future and return to match play.

-- Ron Sirak
Golf World


The Match Play Championship is one of the highlights of the schedule. Fans fill out brackets like the NCAA basketball tournament. The drama of one-and-done golf makes the first day just as compelling as the last.

But that does not mean the format should be used for a major championship, specifically the PGA Championship, which went to stroke play in 1958.

While match play is compelling, it does not typically identify the best player. Not when someone shooting 75 can advance while someone shooting 68 can get beat. Yes, those are the vagaries of match play. But stroke play allows those playing the best to emerge. One hot day does not make the tournament, while one poor day does not doom a player.

Major championships are also big business, and that cannot be ignored. Spectators flock to majors and can be accommodated throughout 18 holes of action, where there is something to watch on every hole. By Saturday or Sunday of a match-play major, that would not be the case. You couldn't sell the same number of tickets, nor accumulate the same kind of revenue.

And then there is, of course, television. The networks would fret over a couple of no-names making it to the final, with the big guns getting eliminated on Wednesday and Thursday.

-- Bob Harig

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