Golf's oldest format of play - Match Play - takes center stage this week, as the last mano-a-mano knockout matches are now underway at the WCG - Dell Technologies Match Play. At the beginning of the week, a random draw at Austin Country Club organized the 64-man field (which is made up of the top 64 players available from the Official World Golf Ranking) into 16 four-man groups. Each player plays every other player within their group, with one top performer from each group advancing to Saturday and Sunday matches.
And rising to the top in the equipment counts in this limited field event, Titleist is once again the overwhelming golf ball choice with 61% of the field (39 players) trusting a Titleist Pro V1 or Pro V1x golf ball for their success. That’s nearly four times the nearest competitor with 16% (10 players) and more than all competitors combined.
Titleist is also the top choice among players in the hybrids (5) category and Vokey Design Wedges topped the approach, sand and lob wedge (61) category and Scotty Cameron putters were the top choice in the putter (23) category.
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We rarely get a chance to see the world's best golfers play head-to-head (outside of this event and biennial Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup matches). Week in and week out PGA Tour events are stroke play affairs, so to get some insight into the match play format, we consulted a number of Titleist golf ball players who are competing for the Walter Hagen Cup:
Bubba Watson - 2018 Dell Technologies Match Play Champion | New 2019 Pro V1x Yellow
"If a guy hits it in the water, hits it out of bounds, then I might change my strategy, just to play safer to try to win that way. Because it's not about the score, it's about just winning the holes. But overall, if it's a hole that requires an iron, I hit an iron. It doesn't matter match play or stroke play. That's just what the hole is designed for or sets up for."
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Ian Poulter | New 2019 Pro V1x
"Never have your mindset in the form of, ‘What if I would miss that putt?’ Don’t ever think what if. You can make eight birdies and lose. It's about trying to get a hold of your match and obviously staying strong.
In your mind, you kind of almost have to think that you’ve given them that putt. If they miss it, fine. But know that you’re never gonna get a surprise. If you get surprised in match play, it’s a bad situation. Never be surprised."
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Charles Howell III | New 2019 Pro V1
"It’s such a different format. You do have to hit some good shots, but sometimes a par is enough. We're so used to grinding it out in four-day stroke play, and here you all of a sudden start paying attention to what the other guys are doing more than you should. And it kind of gets you into hitting some stupid shots you shouldn't hit and trying some things you probably shouldn't try. But I love the format. I've been on both sides of the fence with winning and losing, but I really enjoy it."
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Henrik Stenson | Pro V1
"You have to keep on playing the course, keep on hitting the shots that you want to hit. At times you might pull back a little bit. I mean, you don't want to give away anything easy. Once you manage to get a hold of a match, sometimes it's about controlling it and not giving anything for free. Make the other guy really work hard to win holes."
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Jordan Spieth | Pro V1x
"Everybody here is capable of shooting 6-under. Everybody is capable of shooting 1 or 2-over. So it's nice, I think, to keep that in mind. It's not like it's overconfidence, getting ahead of yourself, not taking the guy seriously. It's more I think inner confidence that 'I believe in my ability, that if I play my best that this guy can't beat me' kind of thing."
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Paul Casey | Pro V1
"I'd like to think I'm difficult to play, mainly because I'm just very consistent. I can get hot with the best of them, but rarely do I give up a lot. So that's difficult to play against. But I've played a lot of match play and had some success. If guys don't want to play me, then that's a nice kind of position to be in.
British kids, we grow up playing a lot of match play. That's what we do, week in, week out, club matches, county matches, club stuff, you just learn it. My weekends or Saturday match for the county would be foursomes in the morning and singles in the afternoon. It's what we always did. So you learn little tricks and little nuances of match play. There's no question it helps because on paper, I always thought -- the U.S. Ryder Cup team last year looked so good on paper. We had massive respect for them. We knew how dangerous they could be, but maybe it's the little things that make the difference.
I remember as a junior, British Boys, I played a certain Italian boy who spoke perfect English. And as I marked my ball, I was replacing my ball with about a ten-foot putt, and he was just in front of me, he had about an eight-foot putt and asked as he looked at me, "Do I need to move my marker?"
I said, "No, that's okay there." So he picked it up. And suddenly, for whatever reason, the English language suddenly departed him. And it was a great debate as to how he was explaining in very broken English, having gone from perfect English now to broken English, how I'd conceded the putt. And the Italian coach backed him up, which was even better.
We used to get all that stuff. And we would hear the stories obviously as kids of Seve, the old white shoe moving on the tee, maybe some change in the pocket. I don't know whether they were true, but Seve was my hero. He was like, the ultimate competitor."
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Justin Thomas | Pro V1
"I played well today (Thursday). I thought I played the pretty well yesterday [in a 3-2 loss to Lucas Bjerregaard (Pro V1x)]. I just didn't make any birdies. Match play when you make one birdie in 16 holes, that's usually not going to get it done.
The hard part for me is sometimes I get in a bad habit to try to play to the opponent too much. If the person gets out of position, I'll play a little more conservative, then they get up and down, where I could have had a good chance to win the hole and now I'm just halving it. So I try to stay in somewhat of an aggressive mindset and try to make birdies, but obviously not anything stupid. Anytime that you can have your opponent having a lot of putts to halve holes it's usually a good sign."
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Branden Grace | Pro V1x
"Last year I lost in my first round. Bubba was 7-under through nine holes and then you're running into a rock wall. But you have to grind it out and play. I grew up playing a lot of this match play format and I really enjoy it.
The Presidents Cup is a little bit different, because you have the whole team behind you. There's nothing like it. But in match play it's all go. You have to trust yourself. You have to go after shots and things like that. When it's tricky and like windy today, it kind of takes you away from playing the golf course. You have to kind of play the man a little bit. Because he can hit it in the water and you play a little bit on the safe side and things like that, where it kind of moves away from a normal game plan."
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Rafa Cabrera Bello | Pro V1x
"It's funny because I think this tournament, it's probably the toughest one to win but I kind of approach it as the easiest one. Instead of competing against 150 guys, you only compete against seven. So you just have to go one at a time."
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Tony Finau | Pro V1 - After defeating Keith Mitchell (Pro V1) in Round 1
"Yeah, No. 14 was the match, to be honest. I made about a 15-footer for par just to tie the hole and not go 1-down with four to go. To me those little putts, those are the momentum-changing putts you have to make when you're in a tough match like that against tough players. Once I had the lead on 15, I put myself in position to just put a lot of pressure on him to score down the stretch. My heart rate is a little too high for a Wednesday. I'm not used to that, but it was a hell of a match."
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Good luck to all of Team Titleist this weekend in Austin!