Four Ball in Golf - 3 Rules You Probably Didn't Know You Could Leverage


2019 USGA Women's Amateur Four-Ball champions Erica Shepherd (left) and Megan Furtney (right) pushing their golf bags and smiling
2019 US Women's Amateur Four-Ball Champions Erica Shepherd (left) Megan Furtney (right) - USGA/Darren Carroll

What is Four Ball in Golf?

 Four ball, also referred to as "four ball better ball" (FBBB), is a partner-style format in golf where a side is comprised of a pair of competing partners, each playing their own ball, in either match play or stroke play. In this format, the side’s score is recorded as the lower score between the two competing partners on a given hole.

This form of golf is largely referred to as either "best ball" or "better ball". Although "better ball" is the correct term, "best ball" is by far the more commonly used golf term for this format.


Why It’s Called Four Ball

 It’s believed that the name four ball simply came about due to the fact that there are four golf balls in play on each hole throughout the round.  The first mention of this format dates back to the R&A’s 1908 edition of their rule book. Since then, this format has been widely adopted and is even used in both recreational and professional tournaments alike.


Golf Tournaments That Utilize the Four-Ball Formant

Both the PGA and the LPGA adopt the four ball format in premier events on their calendars. On the PGA tour, the most popular event that uses this format is the Ryder cup. On the LPGA tour, the most recognizable event to use the four-ball format is the Solheim Cup, which akin to the Ryder Cup on the PGA tour.

In the Ryder Cup, the four-ball match play event is one of the first events to take place. There are 4 four-ball matches on each of the first 2 days of the Ryder cup, as well as 4 foursome matches.

In the Solheim Cup, the four-ball format is played in each of the first 2 days of the event. Each team selects 8 players to participate in both four ball and foursome matches on the first 2 days of the event


Four Ball Stroke Play vs Four Ball Match Play

 Recall that fourball can be played as either stroke play or match play and there are some subtle differences for each case. Let’s look at some of these differences in more detail.

Four Ball Match Play

Match play is the most commonly used four-ball golf format by both professional and recreational players alike. For starters, four-ball match play can be slightly faster than stroke play because it doesn’t require a hole-out, by any player, to move to the next hole. Because this match is won by the team that has the lowest aggregate score on a hole, it’s quite common for teams to concede if they feel that neither player can do better than the other team. This results in less shots being taken which can significantly reduce the time spent playing in a round.

Another way match play may be faster is because a team, or side, can win a match if they are up by more holes than there are holes left to play. As an example, a team can go 5 up with 4 holes to play, meaning the other side stands no chance of tying the match simply because winning the remaining 4 holes would still result in a one-hole lead for the other side.  


Four Ball Stroke Play

The stroke play version of four-ball is a bit less forgiving with time. Each side needs to record an official score for each hole, meaning that there is a requirement that each team has to have at least one player that holes out on each hole. In order to determine a winner in four ball better ball stroke play, each team must record a score for all 18 holes. When 18 holes are completed, the side with the lower score will be declared the winner. Because each team must complete 18 holes, the match can take significantly longer than playing match play.


3 Important Rules You Should Know About Four Ball In Golf

With all the nuances and differences that exist between four-ball stroke play and four-ball match play, there are a few things that remain consistent and deserve special mention.

Here are 3 crucial rules to remember when playing any version of four-ball:

  1.  One or both partners may represent the side: This statement, rule 23.4 in the USGA’s handbook, means that it’s not mandatory for both partners to play, or even be present, on every hole during a round. In addition, a partner can arrive to play after a match has started but can only begin to play on the start of the next hole.
  2.  Order of play is completely up to the side: Under normal regulation, the player that is away is the first to play. In four-ball, however, the side can play in whichever order that seems best, as long as it is either partner’s turn.
  3. Partners may share clubs: This is a very special caveat and deserves a good explanation. The simplest way to explain this is that it’s only allowed if the two partners have a total of 14 clubs combined between the two of them. This is a slight modification of rule 4.1b(2).


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