What Does 'Dormie' Mean in a Golf Match?

Taking a Match Dormie Is a Good Thing for the Golfer in the Lead

Olivia Mehaffey celebrates making a putt during a Curtis Cup match
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"Dormie" is a match play term in golf that applies when one of the golfers or sides in the match achieves a lead that equals the number of holes remaining. For exampke, 2-up with two holes to play, 3-up with three holes to play, 4-up with four holes to play — all are examples of a match that is dormie.

The word was once also spelled "dormy," but that spelling is rare today.

Golfers have various ways of applying the term in different expressions. When a golfer achieves a dormie lead, the match "goes dormie" or has "gone dormie"; that golfer has "reached dormie" or "taken the match dormie."

If you play golf, and if you play match-play golf, you probably already use these terms. But for casual golfers and golf fans, the most common way to encounter "dormie" is on television broadcasts of big match-play tournaments, such as the Ryder Cup, Presidents Cup and Solheim Cup.

Origin of the Word 'Dormie' 

There are some unusual theories about the golf origins of the word "dormie" (for example, one involved mice and another involves Mary Queen of Scots!). But the most commonly accepted origin story is that the word derives from a French word, dormir, meaning to sleep. In other words, you can think of the golfer who has gone dormie as putting the match to bed.

Does Dormie Apply When Matches Go to Extra Holes?

The aforementioned Ryder Cup, Solheim Cup and Presidents Cup are match-play events in which matches can be "halved" — a match can and often does, end in a tie.

It is clear from older examples of the use of "dormie" that the word's original meaning included the implication that the golfer with the dormie lead was guaranteed at least a halve (that golfer could, at worst, only be tied by a rallying opponent).

For example, The Historical Dictionary of Golfing Terms cites an 1851 newspaper article that reported on a match: "Tom divided the next three holes, which made Dunnie dormie ... in a position that he could not lose the match."

But there are many match-play settings that do not include halves. If such a match finishes the 18th hole "all square" (tied), the golfers continue to extra holes until one of them achieves a victory. For example, matches in the U.S. Amateur Championship and British Amateur Championships, both men's and women's, require winners. So does the WGC Match Play Championship.

Thus the question arises: If dormie has historically implied that the leading golfer can't lose, is it correct to use the term in match play tournaments where extra holes are used and halves are not? Because in those settings, a golfer who is, for example, 2-up with two holes to play can wind up losing the match.

Purists will say no: Dormie should not be used unless halves are in use because the traditional meaning of dormie implies the leading golfer can't lose the match.

But that battle was lost a long time ago. Any time one golfer takes a lead over another golfer that equals the number of scheduled holes remaining, that's dormie, at least in the way modern golf broadcasters and fans use the term.