Of all the many, different golf scoring or competition formats, medal golf is arguably the harshest and most unforgiving method of scoring of them all. At the same time, it’s the format that gives golfers the most complete feedback or measurement of their ability to play the game. This is the medal golf format explained.
What is Medal Golf?
Medal play, also known as stroke play, is golf in its simplest form: every stroke on every hole is recorded until the player has holed out. The strokes are tallied over the designated number of holes played and the player with the lowest number of strokes is declared as the winner.
This method of scoring enables several golfers to compete against each other at one time, as opposed to match-play where the competition is only head-to-head between two golfers or two groups of golfers.
Medal play events allow a greater comparison throughout the field and a quicker way to determine a winner of the entire field, and thus, the majority of PGA and European Tour events are played in a medal golf format, as illustrated by Golf Distillery in this post.
Differences Between Match-Play and Medal Play
The differences between match play and medal play are subtle, on the surface, but can ultimately have a major difference in the outcome of the contest.
In match play, golfers play one opponent at a time by recording who won each hole out on the course. The golfer who has won the most holes at the end of the round, or before in a dormie situation, is declared as the winner.
Therefore, a complete blowout on a hole in match-play has much less of a consequence than it would do in medal play. Because you have to finish the hole, as per the rules, recovering from a high score is far more difficult than recovering from losing just the lost hole.
Though the scoring in medal format golf is incredibly simple, there are two main ways of doing so: net and gross.
In Gross play, the total number of strokes is the score. The tally taken “as-is” from all the strokes played. The golfer with the lowest round, or lowest total over a multi-day tournament, is declared the winner.
In Net play, the golfer’s official handicap is deducted from the total number of gross strokes played. Again, the golfer with the lowest total net score is declared the winner.
Net scoring is aimed at leveling the playing field for everyone and golfers are measured against their own ability to play the game, whereas gross scoring is measured against playing the game overall. Thus, gross medal is the format professionals play the majority of the time on the tours.
Strategies for Playing Medal Golf
Medal golf is by far the truest test for any golfer that there is, which also means it is extremely unforgiving when mistakes are made.
The best way to approach medal play is to try and minimize mistakes, but more importantly, not to let mistakes compound. For the layman, that means not to follow up a bad shot with even more bad shots – something that is often easier said than done.
For instance, if a bad drive ends up in the trees, bushes, or the thick stuff, it will be much wiser to punch out to the fairway in such a situation, rather than going for glory and try and pull off the miracle shot for the green. It’s far more likely for the amateur golfer to miss the desired outcome than to actually pull it off.
Out-of-bounds shots or lost balls can really hurt one’s round in medal golf as well because of the penalties awarded. So, keep the ball in play and make every effort to see where it ends up on your shots and you will be rewarded at the end of the round.
Composure in medal golf also plays a pivotal role. Just ask Kevin Na in his meltdown at the Texas Valero Open back in 2011 – his 16 on one hole is the worst par 4 score recorded since the PGA tour started recording hole-by-hole scores in 1983.
Important in Medal Golf
One of the most important factors in medal golf is that no “gimmies” apply.
In other formats, it is common for opponents to “give” putts to their opponents without them having to make them. But because the rules of medal golf require golfers to hole out on every hole, gimmies are not permitted in medal golf – no matter how short the putt might be.
Another important aspect to take note of is that medal golf is incredibly time-sensitive. Amateurs usually take many more shots to get the ball into the bottom of the cup, which would ultimately take a longer amount of time. Therefore, if you do find yourself playing in a medal format competition, try and speed up play as much as you can.
Medal golf can be intimidating, it can be incredibly rewarding as well. There is no other format that gives as much of a true and accurate measurement of one’s golfing ability as the medal golf format does.
Because it’s the only real way of determining who the best golfer is, in its entirety, for the competition being played, it’s the format that’s used in club championships, the four major tournaments, as well as most other tour events.
The USGA does a great job of answering some FAQs here, but if you do have some more questions of your own, feel free to drop them in the comments below and we will be sure to cover them in a future article.
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Nick Lomas is the founder of GolfSpan, an avid golfer, not quite a pro but has over 15-years of experience playing and coaching golfers from all over the world. His mission is to bring the golfing community a better experience then it comes to choosing the right golf gear, and finding the right set up for your game.