What 'All Square' Means in Golf Scoring

"All square," sometimes shortened to just "square," means that a golf match is tied. The term is used in match play, in which a golfer or team is playing against another golfer or team, rather than trying to achieve a lower stroke total than the full field of golfers (which is stroke play).

Technically, "all square" means that the two golfers or two sides in a match play contest have won the same number of holes. Match play scoring works by keeping track of holes won, rather than by totaling up strokes played. If Golfer A has won two holes more than Golfer B, then A leads B 2-up and B is said to be 2-down to A. But if Golfers A and B have won the same number of holes, they are "all square," or tied.

(Why not just say "tied"? You can — using "tied" has always been acceptable. However, the term "all square" is what the governing bodies of golf (the USGA and R&A) always used in the Official Rules of Golf. Not that we said it was used. In the 2019 revisions to the rule book, the governing bodies for the first time added "tied" as the preferred term to "all square." We can expect golfers to continue using all square for many years to come, however.)

The specific way of stating "all square" might change depending on context. A match that is "squared up" is all square. Or a match that is "square" is all square.

A broadcaster might say of a match that, "Anna Nordvist won the sixth hole to make the match with Nelly Korda all square." The term can also be used as a verb: "Nordqvist needs to win the sixth hole to square her match with Korda," or, "Nordqvist squared the match when she won the sixth hole."

On leaderboards, all square is abbreviated as "AS." A match that ends all square, with the golfers tied and no playoff, is said to have been "halved."

Those who watch golf but don't often play match play are likely to hear "all square" and its various forms during the big amateur and professional international matches: Ryder Cup, Solheim Cup, Presidents Cup, Walker Cup, Curtis Cup.

The Historical Dictionary of Golfing Terms (affiliate link) defines "square" or "all square" as "standing even, both sides having won the same number of holes." That reference book makes clear the term and its forms are very old parts of the golf lexicon. It cites an 1833 use of the term, but usage predates even that. The term probably derives from earlier non-golf uses, including "all square" meaning that two people are "mutually clear of all debts or obligations," as Collins Dictionary puts it.

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