How the 2-Person Best Ball Golf Format Works

Two male golfers looking and pointing direction
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"2-Person Best Ball" is a golf format for teams comprised of two golfers. Those two golfers play their own golf balls throughout and the lower score between them on each hole counts as the team score. Two-Person Best Ball can be used in tournaments or by any group of four golfers (who want to play 2-vs.-2).

Two-Person Best Ball is often called by one of two other names:

  • Better ball (this name typically, but not always, means stroke play)
  • Fourball (this name typically, but not always, means match play)

If you know what either of those formats is, then you know what 2-Person Best Ball is. If you don't? Keep reading.

(Note that 2-person best ball might also be called "2-man best ball.")

Is Fourball, Better Ball, and 2-Person Ball the Same Thing?

Yes! Golfers often have different names for the same format. Why? To confuse people like you and me. (OK, for reasons of tradition, geography, local custom and so on.)

But if a golf tournament is touted as better ball, it often (but not always) implies it will be played as stroke play. Calling the format fourball often (but not always) implies it will be played as match play.

And 2-Person Best Ball can be played as either stroke or match play. But for association tournaments, one-day events, fund-raising tournaments and the like, stroke play is always more likely than match play.

A group of four golfers, however, can easily split into 2-person teams and play 2-Person Best Ball as match play for a friendly wager.

Scoring in 2-Person Best Ball

But don't be confused by the different names. A 2-Person Best Ball format is very simple.

Remember, 2-Person Best Ball involves teams of two golfers who play as partners, each playing his or her own golf ball throughout. Each golfer on the team just plays normal golf, in other words. We'll call the golfers on our example team Player A and Player B.

On each hole, players A and B each tee off, each hit their second strokes, each play their third strokes, and so on, until both players' golf balls have been holed out. Normal golf.

But then they compare scores. Which of them had the lower score on the hole? That's the team score:

  • If Player A makes a 4 and Player B scores a 6 on the first hole, the team score on Hole 1 is 4.
  • If A scores 5 and B scores 4 on the second hole, the team score on Hole 2 is 4.

And so on. On each hole, write down as the team score the lower of the two scores made by the partners. (This video on YouTube about how to play a best ball uses a 2-person team as its example.)

Handicap Allowances in 2-Person Best Ball

If playing in a tournament, obviously check with the tournament organizers and do as you're told for handicaps.

But the USGA handicap manual provides guidance for handling handicap allowances in fourball (for which, remember, 2-Person Best Ball is an alternate name). Those methods for using handicaps are:

For stroke play: Calculate your course handicap. Male golfers get 90-percent of their course handicap, female golfers get 95-percent of their course handicap.

Each golfer applies those handicap allowances as they would in any other round of golf. If you're Player A and are allowed to apply a handicap stroke on the third hole, and score a 5, then your net score on Hole 3 becomes a 4. Is your net four lower than your partner's net score on that hole? If yes, then your net 4 is the team's score on that hole.

For match play: The four golfers (two per side) compare course handicaps. Who has the lowest? That golfer plays off scratch, and the other three reduce their course handicaps by the same amount. If the four-course handicaps in the match are, for example, 3, 9, 16 and 22, then the 3-handicapper plays off scratch (0) and the other three course handicaps are reduced by three (becoming, in this example, 6, 13 and 19).