Explaining the Meaning of Dormie in Golf

"Dormie" is a term used in match play in golf, and it means that the golfer or side that is leading the match is ahead by the same number of holes as remain to be played. A golfer who is 1-up with one hole to play, for example, is dormie.

A golfer who is 2-up with two holes remaining, 3-up with three holes to go, and so on, is dormie. Picture an 18-hole match in which Golfer A leads Golfer B 1-up on the 16th green. Then Golfer A sinks a birdie putt to win that 16th hole. She is now 2-up, with only two holes — the 17th and 18th — left to play. She is 2-up with two holes to play, so she is dormie.

The significance of "going dormie" or "taking a match dormie" is that, in match play tournaments in which halves are possible (that is to say, when a match can end in a tie rather than going to extra holes), the golfer who is dormie can no longer lose the match. And the trailing golfer can no longer win the match, although he can still forge a halve (tie) by winning all remaining holes.

Famous competitions such as the Ryder Cup, Presidents Cup and Solheim Cup at the professional level, and the Walker Cup and Curtis Cup at the amateur level, allow matches to end a tie. In those competitions, a tie means a half-point goes to each side. So when a Ryder Cup golfer, for example, gets his match to dormie, that golfer is assured of earning at least a half-point (the golfer who trails in the match, on the other hand, is limited to a half-point as his best-case scenario).

What about match play events in which ties are not allowed? In the U.S. and British amateur championships, for example, or a pro tour match play tournament, winners have to be decided for each match to determine which golfer advances. Absolutists would argue that the term "dormie" doesn't apply to those matches, because, with the use of extra holes, the trailing golfer can still win the match even when trailing by the same number of holes as remain. But "dormie" is, in fact, used by golfers, fans, journalists and broadcasters in those situations, as well. The absolutists, in other words, lost that argument over "dormie" a long time ago.

It's important to note, however, that the word "dormie" no longer appears in the Official Rules of Golf. In the revisions to the rule book made in 2019, "dormie" was removed. However, no replacement term was added or recommended. Therefore, expect "dormie" to stick around in golfers' lexicons for a long time to come.

What is the origin of the word "dormie"? There is a legend that Mary Queen of Scots was the first person to use the term. And though Mary was a golfer, there is zero historical evidence to support that idea, and etymologists and golf historians reject it. The most widely accepted origin story for dormie is that it derives from the French dormir, referring to sleep or dormancy. However, not every source agrees on that. The Historical Dictionary of Golfing Terms (affiliate link) claims dormie is of Scottish origin, although it also notes "further derivation unknown."

We'll cite two other sources' definitions of dormie, just to reiterate its meaning. These definitions are the same as ours in the first paragraph, just worded slightly differently. The previously mentioned Historical Dictionary of Golfing Terms defines dormie as, "In match play, standing as many holes up as there are holes remaining to be played." And the Historical Dictionary of Golf (affiliate link) states that dormie "is a match-play term that means that a player or side is in the lead by the same number of holes as there are holes remaining to be played."

Note that dormie can also be spelled "dormy," although that variant is rarely used today. Also, dormie is a term that is used only in match play, it does not apply in stroke play.

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