Gimme gamesmanship: How match play can potentially lead to grudge matches
By Stephanie Wei under WGC

As you’re well aware from your own money games on the golf course, one of the differences the match play format lends is allowing players to concede putts to their opponents. However, the average hacker is likely much more generous with giving putts than a PGA Tour pro is (at least I am). Sometimes pros make opponents putt out a tap-in just because they feel like it or perhaps to get under their opponents’ skin.

Jason Day has a history of being rather stingy when it comes to conceding putts. He kicked off the day of pre-tournament press conferences at the WGC-Cadillac Match Play Championship with some amusing stories of times that he made his opponents angry at him because he didn’t concede very short putts.

Day, the defending champion of this event, recalled an incident from last year when the Match Play was held at Dove Mountain and he was playing against Russell Henley and he didn’t give him a two-footer — and it wasn’t the first time during their match that it had happened.

“It was so small, and I didn’t give him a two-footer,” said Day. “He turned around and it wasn’t the first time, it was like two or three times I didn’t give him a short putt. He turned around and he was getting angry. I could tell that he was kind of getting a little pissed at me.”

Thing is, it almost backfired on Day.

“Now I know he’s the kind of player that if you get him pissed, he plays good. You better stay away, he started winning some (holes) coming home. I ended up just (barely) beating him.

“But you’ve got to watch who is a confrontational player and who isn’t, and kind of what their personality is. if you play Tiger pissed, he plays better. So there’s a lot of personality that you have to kind of manage just to see  it’s obviously tough to really kind of see and understand what kind of player they are. But once you do then it’s different ways of treating the person to try and make them feel like they’re different.

“Obviously you don’t want to piss someone off when he plays good when they’re pissed. And vice versa, you don’t want to make someone happy when they play best when they’re happy. You just go out and do the job and beat them.”

If Day comes up against Henley in the draw this year, he plans not to make the same mistake by not conceding him those short putts again.

“Never again with Russell,” said Day, smiling.

Day got the impression that Henley harbored ill feelings toward him after that match.

“I felt like Russell Henley didn’t like me for at least six months after that,” he said. “If they’re doing the same thing to me, like I understand that in match play that’s just how it is. You’re playing against each other and you’re trying to do what you need to do to win the tournament.”

Henley wasn’t the first player that Day crossed with his conservative strategy for conceding putts. Several years ago at the WGC-Match Play Championship, he was pitted against Paul Casey and Day made him putt a really short putt. Needless to say, Casey wasn’t thrilled at the time.

“I made him putt in like a foot putt,” said Day. “It was really small. And then he got up and stared at me. I could sense it, that he was staring at me, because it was like he was burning a laser through me from the side. Then he ended up losing the next two holes and I won.”

When approached on Tuesday morning following Day’s presser, Casey said he didn’t recall the incident, but claimed that “nothing gets under my skin.”

He added: “If you don’t have the attitude that you’ll have to hole every single putt, then you’re going in slightly unprepared.”

For Day, it’s not per se about gamesmanship, nor is it about being discourteous — not to mention his philosophy is quite similar to Casey’s remark.

“It’s not out of disrespect, because, I always go in there, every match play event I play, I expect to putt in every putt, I expect to do that. Because if you’re giving me putts, then — if you’re so angry about having a one-foot, two-foot, three-foot putt that you have to putt in, you should just go out there and knock it in easy, not line it up and take your time. Everyone knows that it’s match play. You’re out there and like I said, I expect to putt in every putt. I expect you to do the same. If you’re not, then that’s just your own fault if you can’t control your emotions, as well.”

Despite some pros getting annoyed when putts aren’t conceded, most of them echoed the same philosophy that Day and Casey voiced.

“If any putt is not conceded, then I’m quite happy to hole it,” said Ian Poulter. “And if someone isn’t comfortable with that putt, then they’re obviously not comfortable for a given reason. So, if I’ve got a two-foot putt, I’m happy to finish. I couldn’t give a hoot if someone doesn’t give me a two-foot putt, because I’m not going to miss it. I shouldn’t miss it. So, therefore why should I be frustrated if somebody doesn’t give you that putt. Always expect to hole your putt.”

Added Jim Furyk: “If I had given a guy five two-footers during the round and we’re on the 12th hole and all of a sudden I’m putting a two-footer, I’d be scratching my head a little bit.  All right.  Those aren’t good the rest of the day, I don’t care how long they are.  That would be what’s going through my mind.

“But shooting them a look, I wouldn’t.  I’ll stick up for myself if I feel it’s needed.  But the idea of  putting is putting.  If the guy wants you to putt, that’s his right.  If you get angry because of that, maybe that’s what he was looking for, if that makes sense, I don’t know.”

When Masters champion Jordan Spieth was asked how he decides when to concede a putt in match play, he said, laughing, “Well, at the Ryder Cup, I let Patrick (Reed) do it.

“I just stepped back and let Patrick make the decision.  Most of the time I looked over at him and he’d look back at me and (shake his head indicating no).” 

Meanwhile, Day also recalled an account in the singles matches at the Presidents Cup in 2013, where he was pitted against Brandt Snedeker.

“We get to the 10th hole at Muirfield and I make him putt a less than three-foot putt in,” said Day. “(His caddie) Scotty Vail goes up to my caddie, and he says you know he’s the best putter in the world.  And he goes ahead and misses it.

“So that’s kind of the thing where you just never know.  You know what I mean?  If you have just that one lapse in concentration, you miss that putt, it may change the whole day that you’re playing.  You may be down and it may turn something into when you’re playing good.”

Day, who won last year’s WGC-Match Play Championship in a thrilling final match against Victor Dubuisson, might not be the most popular guy when it comes to competing against him in this format, but that doesn’t bother him (besides, most of his fellow competitors probably get over it eventually).

“It’s amazing how many times I’ve walked off the golf course and think, ‘Man, that guy doesn’t like me anymore.'”