Match play is a scoring system for golf (compare to stroke play). In the world of men's professional golf, there are three notable match play tournaments, the annual Accenture Match Play Championship for individuals, the biannual Ryder Cup for teams representing the USA and Europe and the biannual Presidents Cup for teams representing the USA and International (non-European) players. Women's professional golf has no event directly comparable to the Accenture Championship, but has an event analogous to the Ryder Cup, the Solheim Cup. The U.S. Amateur Championships for both men and women are conducted with two rounds of stroke play to cut the field to 64, and then proceeds to a single-elimination match play tournament. All elimination matches are 18 holes except for the final, which is 36 holes. The PGA Championship, one of the majors, changed from a match play event to a stroke play event in 1958.
Unlike stroke play, in which the unit of scoring is the stroke, in match play the unit of scoring is the hole. On each hole, the most that can be gained is one point. Golfers play as normal. The golfer with the lowest score on a given hole receives one point. If both golfers tie, then the hole is halved.
Match play scores of a game in progress are kept with a running tally. At the start of a match, the score is "all square" or tied. The score is then recorded in terms of one player's lead over another player. For example, if Player A has won 3 holes, Player B has won 1 hole and they have halved 2 (or any number of) holes, Player A is said to be leading, "2-up" (3 holes won minus 1 hole lost).
A team that is leading by N holes with N holes remaining is said to be "dormie-N", or simply "dormie", meaning that they need one more halved hole to win the match (or alternately, that the other team must win all the remaining holes outright in order to halve the match).
The final score of a match play event is listed in one of three ways:
- 1-up or 2-up, meaning that all 18 holes were played and that the winner was ahead by either one or two holes.
- M and N, where M is greater than N, meaning that (18 - N) holes were played, and the winning player was leading by M holes. This indicates that the winner was ahead by more holes than the number of holes left to play, so the match does not need to be finished.
- X holes, where X is greater than 18. This indicates that the players were all square after 18 holes and played sudden-death for (X - 18) more holes until one player won a hole outright. In the Ryder Cup Matches and other similar team events, the match is not finished this way, and the teams each receive a half point. For tournament play this would not be suitable.
Golfers can employ a slightly different strategy during a match play event, since the scoring is different. For instance, players may elect to play more conservatively if their opponent has hit a poor tee shot, reasoning that they stand a good chance to win the hole with a par.