Ivan Morris Column - Matchplay is a more fulfilling and enjoyable format

Limerick Leader golf columnist Ivan Morris
PADRAIG Harrington has always said that consistency is overrated. He’d prefer one win every year than a dozen top tens and I agree.

PADRAIG Harrington has always said that consistency is overrated. He’d prefer one win every year than a dozen top tens and I agree.

Because he has won 15-times, including winning one major, it may sound harsh to say that Jim Furyk gives me the impression of nearly always making ‘mistakes’ at the precise moment that it will hurt him most and has thrown more wins away than anyone else

In my eyes, at least, Furyk has consistently proven that he isn’t a natural born winner but one of the most incredible moneymaking machines in the entire history of golf; official career earnings from 20-years on the PGA Tour amounts to a staggering $61,911,633. None of the vast amount of endorsement income he also earns is included.

As I see it, for Furyk to win, the field must ‘let’ him by making more mistakes than he does. Furyk snatches more defeats from the jaws of victory than any other golfer I have ever known. It’s a backhanded compliment. Furyk ‘fails’ so often because he is so often in contention. On this year’s performances alone, Rickie Fowler appears headed in the same direction. Matt Kuchar is another ultra consistent golfer who rarely passes the post in first place but rakes in the top-tens and big cheques.

Winning is winning and a win is a win, as they say. It doesn’t matter whether you are Rory McIlroy in the process of winning the US Open or Jim Hacker attempting to win the monthly medal, what they both go through emotionally, the tension felt and the psychology applied to slaying internal demons is the same. The status of the competition doesn’t matter. If you want to win and are nervous about it, it’s all the same.

It’s one of the reasons why match play is a more fulfilling and enjoyable format, especially for amateurs. In an 18-holes match played off handicap, anyone can beat anyone on a given day, thereby presenting ‘ordinary golfers’ with the delight of winning or disappointment of losing every time they play. When you come home from golf do your wife and kids ask you: What score did you have? No, they will say: Did you win? The club duffer can beat the club champion in a one-off situation and live on the glory forever. A handicapper representing his club is as significant as playing in the Ryder Cup. The buzz is the same and it lasts a lifetime.

In its earliest days, golf entirely consisted of match play challenges for side stakes and nobody bothered to count the strokes. There was never more that 2 balls in play at once. This did not mean there were only two players; matches were regularly played between teams of an indefinite number that took turns to play. Here’s how it went but it is far from easy to understand. The first player/team to play a second stroke after the tee shot was called THE ODD. The second player/team to hit was THE LIKE – because after this stroke, both sides would have played the same number of strokes. However, if the second player was still furthest from the hole he now became THE ODD. If still being furthest from the hole and forced to strike again he became THE TWO MORE. The first player now came back into the play and after his next shot he became ONE OFF TWO. Only the holes won or lost were counted, more holes won than those still left to play meant ‘match over.’ I told you it wasn’t easy to understand!

It’s a sobering thought to be reminded that Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus are easily the most successful golfers of all time from a winning point of view but they have lost about three times as often as they ever won.

Padraig Harrington had great difficulty winning as an amateur. He contested five championship finals and won only one. Padraig says: “The result is not always a true and fair picture of the performance. That is why the more often one gets into contention the chances of winning improves.” (Unless you are Jim Furyk!)

Jack Nicklaus says: “From an early age, winning golf tournaments is what I did best in life. I had tremendous support from those around me, especially my dad and my mentor since boyhood, Jack Grout. I simply gave every day my best shot and it worked out. All I did was study the golf course, prepare a plan, stick to it and hope for the best. I concentrated on playing my own game and allowing the others to take themselves out of contention, which most of them did most of the time. Champions need to be very self-possessed and self-assured. They need to be independent thinkers with the rare ability to remain focused on their own desires and goals no matter what is going on around them. They have to be emotionally selfish. Winning golf is more than just a test of athletic ability. It is a test of judgement, patience, nerves and good decision-making under fire.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Words of the Wise: Through its very slowness, golf can reach the most extraordinary heights of tension and drama - Henry Longhurst