One Golfer’s Opinion: Alternate-shot format– “Never Say Sorry”
Alternate shot is a golf competition format, which pairs two golfers together as a team and is played by each member alternately hitting the same golf ball until the ball is holed out. In its strictest form and before the competition begins, the team decides which player will tee off on the odd numbered holes and which player will tee off on the even numbered holes. Depending on the layout of the course, and the strengths and weaknesses of the players, strategic planning is a must. This is the most traditional form of alternate shot (also known as Foursomes). This format is used by professional golfers in team competitions such as The Ryder Cup and The President’s Cup.
Due to the difficulty of the alternate shot format, it has grown over time to include a number of adaptations. One of the most popular is the Chapman System (named for its creator Dick Chapman) who invented the format at the Pinehurst Resort. For that reason, it is also sometimes referred to as the Pinehurst System. In the Chapman System, both players tee off, then each player hits the second shot using their partner’s ball from that ball’s location. After both second shots are hit, the team then selects the better of the second shots and plays the traditional alternate shot format until the ball is holed out.
The format sounds easy enough, right? Well, it is easy enough until you play it with a partner. The old adage and unwritten rule under this format is “Never Say Sorry.” However, from personal experience, that “Sorry” is almost impossible not to say. In the alternate shot format, you will inevitably find yourself trying harder than ever to not leave your partner with a tough shot. If you hit the ball from the middle of the fairway and miss the green, you feel as if you’ve let your partner down, so you try to hit a better shot the next time, increasing pressure on yourself.
Similarly, your partner feels the same pressure, which is the adventure of this format. When you miss the green from the fairway, your partner starts to think, “I’ve got to get this close and not leave my partner a long putt.” Your partner’s chip now becomes more than just a simple chip. The chip is pressure filled which gets your partner’s heart pumping and blood pressure rising. The pressure of not leaving your partner a difficult shot can get heated at times and cause otherwise great friends to argue and not talk to each other after the round. I have heard of friends not speaking for weeks after playing in an alternate shot tournament.
The last time I played in an alternate shot tournament was in 2012. I was fortunate to be a part of a long standing 30+ year Ryder Cup event, played at the first ever (official) venue in the United Kingdom back in 1929; Moortown Golf Club. It was a Commemorative Ryder Cup event with 12 Americans on one side playing against 12 Brits on the other. We played 2-person Greensomes (Alternate shot-modified) in the morning and best ball (Fourball) in the afternoon. Both formats incorporated full handicaps for all players, and players were matched together in each match by their team captains.
In the morning Greensomes, my partner and I were ready to go. Our alternate shot format for the day allowed both teammates to hit tee shots off of each tee and then select the team’s best shot and play traditional alternate shot from there. This version is a bit more restrictive than the Chapman format, but more forgiving than traditional alternate shot.
Our morning started with two good drives on the opening Par 5. We selected my drive and had 215 yards to the middle of the green from the fairway. My partner was up and I looked over to see him pulling out an iron. I had played with him before and knew he couldn’t hit the 5-iron 215 yards. I asked him what he was doing and he replied, “Laying up.”
I responded, “Laying up? You better pull off a head cover!“ He then told me, he hated his woods and felt more confident with his irons. Trying to be a supportive teammate, I asked, “Ok, how far can you hit your 5-iron?”
“160,” he said. The realization of what we had ahead of ourselves over the next seventeen holes, sent my heart racing.
Fortunately for us, it worked out. Even though my partner didn’t hit his woods during the match, to his credit, he hit the heck out of that 5-iron all day, his chipping was deadly, and he was a good putter. We did well and halved the match, but playing the already tough alternate shot format was interesting and memorable.
At the event dinner that night, our hosts surprised us and shared the, “You better pull off a head cover!” story drawing cheers and jeers from the crowd. Overall, the Brits nudged us by only 2-points. It was a great day.
The next time you get the opportunity to play alternate shot, jump at the chance. However, if your partner is a close friend or perhaps worse, your significant other, remember the old adage of, “Never Say Sorry.” If it doesn’t go well, be ready for some silence after the round – lasting perhaps days. You know, thinking about it, depending on your circumstances that may be a good thing.
Editor’s Note: Have you had an experience with the Alternate Shot Format? Share a comment in the comments section, or write about your own experience. We would love to hear from you. Please submit stories to firstname.lastname@example.org
BIO: Keith Cook is a contributing editor for localgolfer.com. His career highlights include rounds in nearly every US state and numerous countries throughout the world. He is a retired 29-year US Military Veteran and Ashford University Alumni living in Michigan. Follow Keith and Local Golfer on Twitter @_KeithCook and @LocalGolfer.
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