Is fourball golf’s premier format?
Two of our writers debate whether everyone playing their own ball in a matchplay scenario can be beaten
YES, says Mark Townsend, who insists it is clearly more fun
BEING totally honest, medals terrify me, foursomes slightly less so, greensomes a bit less again while Stablefords, mentally, are just about manageable (though there is always the nagging fear you’ll fail to reach double figures).
I’m happy to admit a medal is the purest form and am even more happy for those far better (and worse) than me to look down their Category One noses while scoffing at the absurdity that anything could better writing each and every score down on a scorecard.
I play to enjoy myself. I gave up the dream of becoming a pro at the age of 13 due to the fact two of my three golf buddies were better than me. A big part of that fun is there are no pencils, five-hour rounds or stony silences because someone is having an off day.
The round isn’t over because you’ve hit it into a field three times at the 3rd, you just lose a hole and start again (albeit with a screaming slice right in the forefront of your thoughts).
There is the overly long calculation over what is three quarters of 13, more than likely a raised eyebrow when the answer 10 finally arrives, and you’re away.
Left, unlike greensomes or foursomes, to play your own ball and, to a degree, do your own thing while making a mental note of everything that is going on in the hole. Unlike strokeplay, fourballs is hugely inclusive, you don’t just ask at the end of a hole what your partner has been up to for the last 10 minutes, you are all there on the green knowing the significance of each and every putt.
And when you’ve knocked it 18 inches past there isn’t the tortuous routine of marking, waiting, remarking, waiting again. You pick it up and move on... and then make the same joke you make every weekend about gimmes.
Better still, with everyone three feet away on the 5th, you enquire, as casually as possible, if anyone fancies a half and, after a mini stand-off, scoop your markers up.
Even the greatest have off days so we have them in spades, yet with fourballs we can still contribute. Eighteen holes is a long time and we all need a crutch at some point. You can play well and lose or poorly and win – that’s the whole point of this team game.
In its own way fourball requires levels of strategy, cunning, nerve and skill. And when things go well you get a little look, or even a mini knuckle rap when the enemy are just out of sight, which remind us how much fun the game can be.
“In fourballs you just have no fear, no worries that you’re going to miss a green. I wish I had a partner every day” – Padraig Harrington
I also hate the way that you are encouraged to thrash your way round the course indiscriminately in the knowledge that playing three or four holes well more than outweighs the e...
NO, says Dan Murphy, who’d rather play almost anything else
THE strangest thing about fourballs to me is that it often seems to make no difference what score I make. I play a hole well only to lose it to a nett birdie, then I play the next one averagely at best and win it with a gross bogey.
Half the time, I don’t even feel like I’m in the match. Betterball is golf’s answer to the second serve – and its greatest flaw is somebody can be on the winning side without ever contributing.
And don’t you just know, in a tight match, that the decisive contribution is going to come from the man who has done least over the 18 holes.
It’s a game that’s supposed to suit the higher handicapper, but I’m not even sure about that – play with a low man and you are expected to pick up as soon as you can’t make a gross par. You will be saluted as a hero after making 15 double bogeys – just as long as the other three holes yield a birdie, a nett birdie and a nett eagle.
Another peculiarity of fourball is when you have one man in the group who is much higher than the rest. On the hardest holes, he is expected to compete with no advantage as three players are all on shots. By contrast, on innocuous middling stroke-index holes he has a shot from everyone else in the group. Weird.
A partnership is all about two people learning how to work together. And in brilliant formats like foursomes, especially, and to a slightly lesser extent, greensomes, there really is nowhere to hide.
For the duration of your game, your fates are inextricably linked and you stand or fall as a pair.
These formats make you face up to your weaknesses and prove your strengths – in fourballs you can hide behind your partner or not speak to each other for four hours and you might still win.
I also hate the way that you are encouraged to thrash your way round the course indiscriminately, in the knowledge that playing three or four holes well – when your gamble to hit driver off every tee pays off – more than outweighs the eight holes you never finish.
This is nothing to do with matchplay, because in singles I firmly believe the value of an overly aggressive gameplan is exaggerated. No, in matchplay, just as in strokeplay, you are rewarded for playing a succession of holes to the best of your ability.
Not in fourball though. Like I said, strange game. Oh, it also takes far too long.
“I believe that fourball golf is a lottery at the very highest level” – Peter McEvoy, two-time Amateur champion and a victorious GB&I captain in the Walker Cup