The late Seve Ballesteros was the ultimate match-play golfer. He has a 20-12-5 record in eight Ryder Cup appearances as a player, and he captained the Europeans to victory in 1997. He also won the World Match Play Championship five times. Needless to say, the guy knew what he was doing. And so can you. Use Seve's wisdom, and you just might take down your next opponent, 5 and 4.
1. "Making your opponents fear the worst is a powerful weapon in match play."
In other words, embrace the competition. Step to the tee box with confidence, and volunteer to hit first. Hit a good shot? Pick up the tee before the ball lands. Walk with a purpose, and never let anyone see that you're nervous. Your opponents will wonder if they messed with the wrong golfer.
2. "The makeup of any course can be made to work to your advantage."
Not only should you be aggressive on holes that visually suit your eye or play to your strengths, you should also identify a dominant feature about the course that's in harmony with your game and exploit it. For example: A good bunker player should stay aggressive, hitting into greens on a course with a lot of sand. Why? The risk doesn't outweigh the reward.
3. "Make your opponents think they can win the hole only with a birdie."
OK, the birdie part might not apply to your group, but the advice can be tailored to the score that typically wins a hole. What Seve meant was: Make your opponents have to play their best to win a hole. Don't give them any easy wins. Even if that means sacrificing distance off the tee or playing a safe approach shot to secure an easy bogey or par. Sooner or later, this strategy will wear them down.
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Seve Ballesteros raises his putter after holing a clutch putt at the 1989 Ryder Cup at The Belfry.
4. "You quickly learn that it's better to shoot a 75 to win than a 67 to lose."
You're not here to look pretty. You're here to win, right? That means grinding out pars and bogeys that keep you in the match is a lot more important than trying to stuff every shot you hit. Holing out a seemingly impossible shot can make a round memorable, but not as memorable as having your name on a trophy.
5. "When you're in trouble, it's not only about ability or aggressiveness. It's more than that. You have to see a certain shot."
The recovery shot you should hit is the one you can visualize. Sometimes it's a punch out back into the fairway, and other times it's a heroic iron through a small gap in the trees. Point is: If you believe you can pull off a shot, it's probably going to be your best play.
6. "Bad shots do not always result solely from bad swings. They also stem from indecision or doubt."
If you're deciding between clubs, go with your first choice. Not sure about the break in a putt? Pick one and commit to that line. And if you're about to try a gutsy shot, don't swing until you convince yourself you can pull it off. You might lose a hole, but at least you'll go down confidently.
7. "Try to get your opponent thinking on the greens."
Just like in poker, this is the time when you should really be watching your opponents' demeanor. Obviously, you want them to putt out when they look nervous. But you also want them second-guessing green reads and their ability to hole putts. Plus, if you hit a putt close to the hole, always offer to putt out before they have a chance to concede it. They'll start to think you're ready to putt, no matter what. They might end up giving you some putts you could easily miss.