'Playing the Like' and 'Playing the Odd'

"Playing the like" and "playing the odd" aren't just golf phrases that are almost exclusively British, they are also phrases that are archaic. Not even British golfers use the terms anymore. So why are we explaining what they mean? Let's find out.

Both phrases refer to the number of strokes a golfer has played.

"Playing the like" means that you are playing the stroke that brings you even with your opponent's number of strokes on a hole. If your opponent has played her third stroke and you are lying two, then, on your next (third) stroke, you are "playing the like."

"Playing the odd" means that you are playing the stroke that puts you one stroke more than your opponent has played. If you both lie three, and you are playing your fourth stroke, you are "playing the odd."

So the like stroke brings you even, the odd stroke puts your stroke total one more than your opponent's.

But again: If these are archaic expressions that were only ever used in Britain to begin with, why bother explaining? If you are a student of golf history, as we are, then you might spend time perusing old golf books and magazines. And you might run across these terms.

One of them, in particular, can cause confusion if you don't know what it means: playing the odd. "Playing the odd" was often written or spoken as a plural: "playing the odds."

For example, and old golf couplet includes the plural use:

"Now near the hole, Sir David plays the odds, Clan plays the like, and wins it, by the gods!"
An example from an 1899 book goes like this: "Tom, playing the odd, put a ball just this side of the green, and Hugh, on the like, made a beautiful iron ..." (Tom's stroke put him one more on the hole than Hugh, but then Hugh played his stroke and they were level again.)

If you're reading old articles about golf and run across those terms — particularly "playing the odds," which has a very different meaning (gambling related) today — there might well be confusion. But now you know what the old expressions "playing the like" and "playing the odd" mean.

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