Seve Ballesteros' Five Best Tips For Winning Head-To-Head Matches

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Seve Ballesteros' Five Best Tips For Winning Head-To-Head Matches

May 10, 2011

Photo By: Scott Heppell/AP Photo

Photo By: Stephen Munday/Getty Images

Photo By: David Cannon/Getty Images

Photo By: David Cannon/Getty Images

Photo By: David Cannon/Getty Images

Play your own game, but also 'play the man.' I take the view that my opponents are not there for me to ignore, rather to help me in my choice of shots. That means I have to be a good decision maker. Hitting thoughtless shots is the fastest way to defeat. No one likes to play aggressive golf more than me, but at times it's better to temper your ambition. I'll give you an example, In a match against Ian Woosnam in the 1987 World Match Play Championship at Wentworth, I paid dearly for an impetuous second shot to the last hole, an often reachable par 5. We both hit good drives, and the green was in range with my best 3-wood. In an effort to reach, I pushed it into the trees. By doing so, I made it easier for Ian. Suddenly there was little chance of him losing the hole. He could play for an easy 5. If only I had hit a more conservative 3-wood close to the green, the possibility of my getting a 4 would still have been in Ian's mind. Making your opponents fear the worst is a powerful weapon in match play.

Photo By: Scott Heppell/AP Photo

Keep doubt out of your partner's mind. In foursomes (alternate shot) or four-ball (better ball), even if you feel your partner has the wrong club, or is taking the wrong line, it is invariably better to keep quiet. The last thing anyone wants from a partner is a conflicting opinion. Confirmation of my choice is what I want to hear. Don't get me wrong, though. If your partner is making what you think is a major error, speak up. Just make sure when it's time to strike the ball, all indecision has been removed from his mind.

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Apply pressure on your opponent on the green. Putting, more than any other part of the game, is played in the mind, so try to get your opponent thinking on the greens. Pay close attention to his general demeanor as he approaches and strokes his first short putt. It's easy to tell if he is confident or not. If he looks a little unsure, make him hole every short putt. He will miss one sooner or later. And more to the point, he will know that you know he's a little edgy. If however, your opponent holes out well, give him a few short ones -- but not all of them. After a while, make him putt one. With luck that will make him think, "Why is he making me putt, can he see something I can't?" This won't always work, but sometimes that doubt is enough to win a match.

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Let the experienced player hit second. Good combinations in four-ball matches always have one player in contention at every hole. Two is better, of course, but that can sometimes bring its own frustrations if both make birdies or bogeys on the same hole. Decide before hand who is to be the leading player. In 1987 at the Ryder Cup in Muirfield Village, I played with Jose Maria Olazabal and before setting out, we planned exactly how we would play. Jose hit first on every hole. He is a more consistent driver and I could be more aggressive. When he did miss, I would merely get my ball in play. Also never underestimate the value of experience. If I had gone first and hit a poor shot, the pressure on Jose Maria, in his first Ryder Cup, would have been immense. So in your weekend four-ball, allow the lower handicapper to play second.

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Consider a putt's difficulty in determining order of play. Say you are close to the cup in three shots, and your partner is farther away in two. Should the short or long putt be attempted first? In the 1987 Ryder Cup with my partner Jose Maria Olazabal, I let the relative difficulty of our putts dictate which took precedence. If both putts were straightforward, over relatively flat terrain, whoever had the shorter putt played first. Assuming that it was holed, the other could then be aggressive with the longer putt. And even if the first was missed, the second was still a fairly simple two-putt. If both were difficult, breaking putts, we took the longer one first. The worst that could happen is that we would both be close in three, let's say, with two chances to make a 4. If the longer putt was markedly more difficult, it made sense to us to try it first. Attempting the short one, even if it were easy, missing and leaving a tough two-putt was too risky. Likewise a noticeable easier longer putt always took precedence with us. It could be struck aggressively with the reassurance that, again, we still had two chances at making a par should it fail.

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