What is a sudden-death playoff in golf, and what does that mean?
Golf Culture

What is a sudden-death playoff in golf, and what does that mean?

A photo of golfer Rory McIlroy DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - JANUARY 30: Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland celebrates with the winners trophy on the 18th green after the final round of the Hero Dubai Desert Classic at Emirates Golf Club on January 30, 2023 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)

In golf tournaments around the world, every single week, the stated regulation number of holes are not enough to determine a winner. At least two players are tied at the end of regulation, and a winner needs to be determined through a playoff.

The most common format for a golf tournament playoff is a sudden-death playoff. What does that mean in golf terms, though?

What is a sudden-death playoff in golf?

In golf, a sudden-death playoff implies a hole-by-hole playoff. All of the players competing in the playoff start on the first playoff hole, and they are competing to have the lowest score on that single hole.

How to win a sudden-death playoff in golf is simple: If one player has the lowest score unto themselves after one hole, then they win they sudden-death playoff and are declared the tournament champion.

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If at least two players tie for the lowest score after one hole, then they will play another hole. The score for the prior hole will not matter to the next hole. Any players in the playoff who do not tie for the lowest score are eliminated and do not play the next playoff hole.

This pattern will continue until one player alone has the lowest score for a single hole, and they will be declared the winner of the tournament.

There are other playoff formats in golf, including an aggregate-score playoff, where players compete over a stated number of holes and the player with the lowest combined score after those holes is declared the winner. In the event of a tie after those multiple holes, then the playoff becomes a sudden-death playoff starting with the next hole, and those rules apply to any players who advance from the aggregate-score playoff.

In golf rules terms, all players entering the playoff start as tied for second place, and the playoff identifies the winner. Most people think the players start as tied for first and second place is determined, but it is in fact the opposite.

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