How To Play Best Ball In Golf: 6 Strategies To Win

Wondering how to play best ball in golf? You’ve come to the right place.

Before you sign up to play in a golf tournament, it’s important to understand the format of the golf game that you’re playing. It could be captain’s choice, match play, or Chapmans.

Or, it could be best ball – the most common team format.

The USGA (United States Golf Association) hosts 15+ championships in this format every year, with players coming from all across the world to compete.

The most famous events are the US Opens and the US Amateurs. They offer one for men, one for women, and one for senior players.

They are all individual tournaments, with one exception. You can get a partner and play the best ball in golf format at the highest level.

USGA events are designed for scratch golfers, but there are plenty of local tournaments that use the best ball in golf format.

We want to help you be successful when you play best ball in golf. Below you will find our strategies for success.

Let’s get into the swing of it!

Four golfers smiling at the camera, ready to play best ball in golf format.

What Is Best Ball In Golf and How Is It Played?

Golfers love to make their terminology confusing and this is no exception. Best ball can also be referred to as “Four-Ball”. They are synonyms.

Related article: How To Play A Foursome In Golf: Four-Ball and Alternate Shot Explained

In fact, the USGA tournament that we referenced above is called the US Amateur Four-Ball.

Why is it called “four-ball” if there are only two players per team? Great question! It is an old term that is still used.

In 1908 the R&A (Royal and Ancient) published a rule book that included instructions on how to play best ball. They used the term “four-ball”.

The idea was that two teams of two players would play together and keep each other’s score. This would mean four golf balls were in play on every hole and thus the name.

Regardless of whether you say “four-ball” or best ball in golf, the rules are the same.

Male golfer after his swing, with club behind his back as the sun sets behind him.

The Rules

You and your partner both play the hole. At the end of the hole, you compare your scores and the lowest one is your team score.

Let’s walk through an example. John and Steve are playing best ball. They play hole #1, where John makes a 5 and Steve makes a 4.

Their team score for hole #1 is a 4. You continue this process for all 18 holes.

Your 18-hole team score will be the best score on each individual hole, regardless of which player made that score.

The best ball in golf format can be fun because your partner can “save” you. It doesn’t matter if you have a terrible hole if your partner has a great one!

You can play this format in gross or net (using your golf handicaps).

The PGA Tour has one event each year using best ball and it is frequently played in Member-Guest tournaments.

Female golfer wearing bright pink polo and which cap holds a driver and smiles into the distance.

6 Strategies To Win At Best Ball In Golf

Now you know how to play it, let’s learn how to play it well.

#1: Pick The “Right” Partner

This seems like obvious advice. In best ball, your partner can carry you. One player can lead the team to victory.

If you were playing in a two-man basketball tournament, you would want Steph Curry or Kevin Durant on your team.

The “right” partner isn’t just about picking the best golfer. There are other things to consider beyond just golf skill.

You want to pick someone you enjoy playing with – you will be on the course together for 4-5 hours.

It also helps if you know each other’s golf game. An understanding of strengths and weaknesses.

Senior golfing couple high-five near the hole, with tall trees and mountains in the background.

Pick a partner that will support you if you are struggling. Someone that can give you a pep talk if you start poorly.

Try to avoid a golfer that gets angry or easily frustrated. Best ball is a team golf format and you need to find a team player.

One player getting frustrated can drag the entire team down. Make sure you stay positive during the round.

2: Play Aggressively (. . . At Times)

Best ball in golf is a team competition. Only one player has to finish the hole well, so it makes sense to play aggressively.

You should take more risks than normal trying to make a birdie, especially if your partner is in good shape on the hole.

Instead of laying up, go for the par 5 in two. Instead of aiming at the middle of the green, fire at the flag.

Younger male golfer holds flag for older male golfer who is putting.

The key is reading the situation on the hole you are currently playing. If you and your partner are both in the fairway, try to make a birdie.

On the other hand, if your partner hits their drive out of bounds, you might need to play safe. Try to save a par.

The key to winning best ball in golf is knowing when to go for it and knowing when you need to protect the team score.

#3: Read Each Others Putts

The great thing about having a partner is that you can get someone else’s opinion on your shot. They can help you make the correct decision.

This is a huge advantage on the greens. You get two sets of eyes on every putt.

To be a great putter you need a solid putting stroke, but you also need to know how to read the break on the green.

Male golfer wearing a blue polo holds a putter next the the ball on a green golf course with tropical shrubs.

Your partner can help. Always let them take a look at any important putt and let you know what they see. They might catch something you missed.

Most golfers don’t get to play with a caddie, but your partner can act like a caddie during your best ball tournament.

Don’t forget about the slope of your putt. Is it uphill or downhill? If you aren’t sure, ask your partner.

#4: Get And Give Free Runs

A “free run” is a golf term for a putt that you don’t have to worry about two-putting. It can be a huge advantage during best ball in golf.

Here is the scenario. Your partner makes par on a hole and you have a birdie putt.

Since your team already has a par, it doesn’t matter what happens if you miss your putt. You have a “free run” for birdie.

Male golfer in light yellow trousers prepares to take his putt, with another male golfer in the background holding the flag for him.

This is a great way to make putts. You can be aggressive with your stroke and you don’t have to worry about 3-putting.

Pick your line and make a confident stroke. If you make it, great. If you miss it, you can pick your next putt up because your partner already made the par.

It is much easier to make a solid putting stroke if there are no consequences. It is a “free run”.

As much as possible, you should try to give your partner a “free run”. This is the primary way you take advantage of a best ball golf format.

#5: Hit The Short Putt First

This is the third strategy in a row that is related to putting. The green is where you must take advantage of the rules for best ball in golf.

All golfers feel pressure in a tournament. As much as possible, you want to work with your partner to reduce anxiety.

Let’s look at another scenario. You and your partner both have a putt for par. You have a 15-foot putt and your partner has a 5-foot putt.

A golf ball next to the hole in the afternoon, with sun low in the sky.

For your team to make a par, you only need one of the putts to drop. Who should putt first?

In a normal round of golf, the player farthest from the hole would putt first, but we recommend you do the opposite when playing best ball in golf.

Here is why. The 15-foot putt is harder than the 5-foot putt. If you put first (from 15-feet) and miss, your partner must make the 5-foot to save your team par.

The “must make” aspect of the 5-foot putt adds pressure. This putt will be easier for your partner if you let them put first.

They know that if they miss, you still have a chance to make your 15-foot putt. Less pressure means there is a higher chance they make the 5-footer.

Your goal in best ball in golf should be to make your partner’s round as easy as possible.

A male golfer looks into the distance after his shot, with his hand above his eyes shielding from the sunlight.

#6: Be Clutch!

Easier said than done, but the key to best ball in golf is coming through for your partner at the right time. You need to be clutch.

Clutch play in sports is decisions and actions that push a team into victory.

Some shots will be more important than others. If your partner already has par, your par putt doesn’t matter.

On the other hand, if your partner has just made a bogey, your par putt is critical.

Being able to make a great swing when your partner needs help is how you win at best ball in golf.

What separates the team that wins the trophy from the team that ends up in the middle of the pack? The winning team helped each other.

When your partner is having a bad hole, you need to come through. Save the day. Hopefully, your partner will return the favor when you struggle.

The golf slang is “ham and egg it”. Cover each other’s mistakes and you might just leave with a best ball golf victory.

Tiger woods wearing a striped polo and smiling into the camera.

Let’s Get You Ready For Your Next Tournament

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Ray has been playing golf for 35+ years, including being part of his High School and College golf teams. While he still enjoys playing in amateur tournaments, Ray now focuses on growing the game of golf through teaching and coaching. He has two sons that both play golf competitively and loves spending time watching them compete. Ray continues to play in local amateur golf events and currently has a +2 handicap.

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