The Four Ball Golf Format: AKA Best Ball

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If you’ve watched the Presidents Cup or Ryder Cup, chances are you’ve asked yourself… “What is a four-ball format in golf?”

These events are played in four ball and foursomes. They sound similar, but they are completely different. Hint: Fourball is easier than foursomes.

Keep reading to learn more about four ball competition to see if it’s the right type of event for you and a partner.

Four-ball Golf Format 

There are many ways to play this crazy game. There are many ways to play this crazy game of golf.

These are some of the most popular golf formats include Match playAlternate shot Stableford, scrambles, etc. You can also find many other types of gambling games too.

What is the difference between these events and a traditional four ball event?

Four Ball 101 

A four ball in golf (also known as best ball or better) is a playing format for pairs. 

Here’s the formal definition from the USGA, “Four-Ball is a form of play (in either match play or stroke play) involving partners where you and your partner compete together as a side, with each of you playing your own ball, and your side’s score for a hole is the lower score of the two of you on that hole.”

Each player will play their own ball for the entire hole in a four-ball format. The best score for the hole is the team’s score.

You do not need to count both scores as it’s not a combined total.

Unlike a shamble or scramble, you don’t get the help of using your partner(s) golf shots. Just like a normal round of golf, it’s all on you!

It’s normal for two pairs of partners to play together for a foursome group (hence the term, four ball). But that doesn’t mean they’re always playing against each other (more on that later). 

Rules of Four Ball 

Although the format is similar to traditional stroke play in many ways, there are some key differences. 

First, the players dont have to hole out. Only one score is required for the group.

So if one player makes a four and their partner is going to make a big number, they don’t need to finish the hole. Unlike stroke play, both players aren’t required to finish the hole.

It is important to remember that only one score counts. It’s not a cumulative score of the group.

If both players hit the ball, the lowest score is taken into account. If one player fails to hole out, that score is used. If neither player holes out, the match play event will be canceled. Or, if it were a stroke play event the team would be disqualified unless they correct their mistake in time. 

Four ball Stroke Play Format 

What’s great about the four-ball format is that you can use it with handicap match/stroke play. With stroke play, it’s pretty simple – each player plays their own ball. Only one ball counts so your partner’s ball is in bad shape, no worries.

After 18 holes, the gross score is added and compared to the rest of the field. If it’s a multi-day event, it’s common to repair groups each day based on the leaderboard. 

It is important to get the score right on the scorecard. Otherwise, it can get messy. Here are the best practices according to the same USGA article from above:

  • “The gross score of at least one partner must be entered on your scorecard
  • There is no penalty for entering more than one partner’s score on the scorecard
  • Each score on the scorecard must be clearly identified as the score of the individual partner who made it; if this is not done, your side is disqualified.”

Four ball Match Play Format  

This format can also be used in match play events.

The same rules apply for the most part, including the fact that both players don’t need to finish. Only one match score counts; a team can win by one, lose by one, or tie the hole.

Match play in four-ball matches is best understood by paying attention to the order of play.

You and your partner can play in the order you want (closest doesn’t necessarily matter). Player A can play first if he has a 6-foot birdie, while player B has a 4 foot par putt.

This can be a good strategy to free your teammate. However, once the hole is filled, you should also be familiar with the rules. 

Here’s what the USGA said, “You must not continue play of a hole after your next Stroke has been conceded if this would help your partner. If you do so, your score for the hole stands without penalty, but your partner’s score for the hole cannot count for your side.” 

Final note: Match play events do not require a scorecard. 


Four Ball Tournaments

While scrambles, shambles, and Chapman golf formats are common for amateur golfers, they don’t exist in the professional world. Four-ball events have been a standard of professional golf for decades.

The Ryder Cup is perhaps the most famous example of professionals using this format. The Ryder Cup, a three-day competition between Team USA (vs. The week with Team Europe is always one the most exciting of the year. The combination of great courses and pride from the players makes for some amazing golf.

Its also very entertaining to watch. They play a four-ball format on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. This format is great for capturing the best players and results.

The Presidents Cup, which is held every other year in conjunction the Ryder Cup, uses a four-ball format. 

Amateur Tournaments 

While this type of format isn’t as common in everyday amateur events since it’s not as easy as a scramble, it’s used for top tier events. The USGA organizes a Four Ball event every year, which brings together the best players across the country. This event was established in 2015 to replace U.S. Amateur Public Links, which was an individual competition that ran from 1922 through 2014. 

Each player must have at least a handicap of 5.4 and register to play in a local 18-hole four ball qualifying event. This qualifies the team for the big event. Although the venues can change, they can be held at top courses all across the country. This event has been hosted at many top golf courses, including Pinehurst Resort, Bandon Dunes, Olympic Club, and Chambers Bay. 

Players compete in a 36-hole strokeplay qualifier, which determines the 32 teams for match play. The match play continues until the winner has been determined. There is also a U.S. Women’s amateur four ball event as well. 

Finally, it’s important to note that most member guest tournaments will have a component of four ball match play.

FAQs on Golf Formats 

Are you looking for information on other popular tournaments in golf? Continue reading to find out more. 

Why does it get called four-ball instead?

I’ll be honest this confused me for a long time since it’s a partner competition, not a four-man event. It was always confusing to me why it was called four-ball, rather than two-ball.

But the R&A in 1908 deemed it four-ball since four separate balls were in play during the match. Such a rule for the stroke play version of this type of tournament didn’t exist until 1952. 

How is a four-ball of golf scored?

The rules differ if it’s a match play or stroke play event. However, each player plays their own golf ball for the entire hole and has the option to stop. Only one score is counted for the group so it’s okay if one player elects not to finish the hole. 

What are the rules of four ball best in golf?

There are many rules that can be followed. The biggest thing to remember is that in four ball it’s not required for both players to finish the hole. Only one score is counted toward the total team score but it’s important to fill out the scorecard correctly. 

With match play, it’s important to play in the proper order (the team furthest from the cup always plays first). But no scorecard is required in match play – one of the team’s needs to let the scoring officials know who won. 

During research, however, I discovered Rule 23.7 which refers to sharing clubs. According to the USGA “You and your partner are allowed to share clubs, so long as the total number of clubs you have together is not more than 14.”

What is the difference between foursomes in golf and four-ball? 

Despite having similar names, foursomes are very different from four-ball.

Foursomes are known as alternate shots in which partners don’t play their own golf ball. Instead, each hole is played with one ball and the team takes alternate shots until the hole has been completed. 

Teams take turns teeing off on odd or even numbered holes. This is the most common match play practice. 

What are the rules for foursomes in golf? 

There are many rules to foursomes, but the most important thing to remember is that only one player can use each hole. Players alternate teeing off at odd holes with even holes. Then the partner hits the next shot. Players alternate until the hole is completed. 

Final Thoughts about Four Ball Match Play

Four-ball is a fun game to play with a partner. Its also much easier to score well than foursomes. It’s also a cool format because you can use it in both match play and stroke play events too.

This style of golf has been responsible for some of the most memorable Ryder Cup moments. Try it out next time you’re out with friends and see what happens!

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