What Is Four Ball In Golf? 4 Ball Golf Explained

Some golf terms are intuitive, but others make no sense at all. Today’s example; what is four ball in golf?

Does it mean you hit four shots and play the best one? No, this is the definition of the Captain’s Choice format.

Does it mean you must rotate between a Titleist, a TaylorMade, a Callaway, and a Pinnacle? This is silly, but it makes more sense than the truth.

Let’s answer the question “what is four ball in golf?”, explain how it got this name, and provide you with strategies to succeed in this format.

In this article, we will look at:

  • What Is 4 Ball Golf?
  • Why Is It Called 4 Ball Golf?
  • Where Can You Play 4 Ball Golf?
  • 6 Tips To Win In 4 Ball Golf

Let’s jump into it!

golf ball on the grass next to a golf club with a blurred background

What Is 4 Ball Golf?

Four ball in golf is also known as best ball. This format requires 2-player teams. You both play the hole, and your team score is the best score of the 2 players.

Let’s say that Fred & Max are playing in a 4 ball tournament. On the first hole, Fred makes a bogey, and Max makes a par. Their team score is par.

You may hear two partners talking about how many shots they cut each other. This is a typical golf conversation after playing in a four ball event.

Basically, this means they are discussing how much they helped each other. Let’s say Fred shot 78, Max shot 79, and as a team, they shot 73.

In this scenario, Fred cut Max 6 strokes (79 – 73), and Max cut Fred 5 strokes (78 – 73). In Four ball golf, only one player has to finish each hole.

Four Ball is the most common form of team golf. It is played in the Ryder Cup and is often used in weekend wagers.

Why Is It Called 4 Ball Golf?

The answer to “what is four ball in golf” is pretty simple, but the why is a little strange. You would think it would be called two ball, right?

Like many things in golf, it goes back decades, and the first time the term was used was in the 1908 rules book published by the R&A (Royal & Ancient).

golf ball getting hit by golf club with blurred trees in background

The idea was if two teams are playing this format against each other, there will be 4 balls in play. At the time, it was only used in match-play events.

It was 1952 before the idea of “four ball” stroke play was added to the Rules of Golf.

Where Can You Play 4 Ball Golf?

We have answered “what is four ball in golf?” and why it is called that, but where can you play this format?

It is one of the formats played in the Ryder Cup and the Presidents Cup, but you probably won’t be selected for those teams.

The USGA (United States Golf Association) does offer the “US Amateur Four-Ball“, but that requires a handicap of 5.4 less to try and qualify.

These are elite events for professionals or scratch golfers, but there are four-ball golf tournaments for players of all levels.

In fact, most local tournaments are four-ball, and many offer both gross and net prizes. Net means you get to use your handicap strokes.

Find a buddy and get signed up to play!

6 Tips To Win In 4 Ball Golf

You now can answer the question but you also need to know the strategies to be successful.

man and friends playing golf celebrate a successful shot

#1: Play Aggressive

We aren’t saying you should go crazy – course management is still important, but you do have a partner.

What is four ball in golf could be answered as situational aggression. If your partner is already on the middle of the green, you should aim at the pin.

If your partner has already safely layed up on a par 5, you might want to try and hit the green in two.

In this format, it doesn’t help if you both make par. The key is to go for birdies without jeopardizing your team par. In other words, play aggressively!

#2: Putting Order Matters (Free Run)

We can all agree that it is easier to make a putt if you don’t have to worry about the next putt. It is easier to 1-putt if a 3-putt won’t hurt your scorecard.

This scenario is frequently in play when you compete in four ball golf. If your partner makes par and you have a birdie putt, this is called a “free run”.

You can make an aggressive putt without having to worry about saving par – your partner already has that score secured.

Your goal should be to create as many “free runs” as possible. If you can make par, hit that putt first and let your partner go after “the bird”!

#3: Stay Patient

Team golf can mess with you. You want to help your partner and this can lead to additional golf nerves. This can also cause you to press and try too hard.

man swings golf club foreground with a golf course in view

Yes, you have a partner, but that doesn’t mean every hole is going to be easy. It doesn’t mean you are going to make tons of birdies and no bogeys.

Stay patient and try your best on every hole. Don’t get frustrated if you and your buddy get off to a slow start.

#4: Keep Your Ball In Play

The golf term “in my pocket” means that you are out of the hole and your golf ball is in your pocket.

This can add tremendous pressure to your partner in a four ball event. Once you are “in your pocket” whatever they score will be the team score for that hole.

You should always try to avoid this situation. Keep both players in the hole and you will have more success.

One partner hitting a wild drive out of bounds makes it much harder on their teammate. This is when big numbers can end up on your scorecard.

#5: Know When To Lag

Kenny Rogers famously sang “you gotta know when to hold them – know when to fold them” in his song “The Gambler”.

man wearing white and brown shoes putting golf ball

We think that if Kenny wrote a song called “what is four ball in golf” his lyrics would say “you gotta know when to charge them – know when to lag them”.

Lag putting can be critical to your success in four ball golf. Let’s say your partner has already made bogey and you have a 25-footer for birdie.

Of course, you would love to make the birdie, but if you miss, you want an easy par. You do not want to charge that first putt 5 feet past the hole.

You don’t need that type of stress in your life. Try to make it, but make sure you lag it close to the hole!

#6: Change Momentum – Switch It Up!

Our last piece of advice is a superstitious thing, but you will notice golf partners do it all the time.

Typically when you play four ball, you and your partner decide that one of you will go first on each tee shot. There are a couple of different schools of thought.

You let the straighter player go first because they are more likely to hit the fairway.

The other thought is that you let the better player go second because they can handle the pressure if their partner hits a poor tee shot.

Both can work, but if you get off to a slow start, switch it up! We can’t promise it will work but is a commonly used strategy.

Four ball partners looking to change momentum with say “let’s switch it up” and they will change the order they tee off.

four balls in golf course with sun setting behind them

We hope you give 4 ball golf a try – it is a fun way to compete with a buddy!

Up Next: Let’s Learn About The Captain’s Choice Format

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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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