Thursday, 9 August 2012

What is your handicap?

tiger woods scorecard
Sometimes, I get really frustrated that my handicap doesn't go down. After all, your handicap index is a direct indicator of how well you play the game of golf. If your handicap is low, you're pretty good. If it's trending down, you're getting even better. Unfortunately, mine index is kind of high (14.5), and it's not getting any better...

Other times, I get just as frustrated that my handicap doesn't go up. Have you ever caught yourself trying to console yourself after a bad round by saying, "Well, at least my handicap will go up so I'll get more strokes next time!" ? Funny thing -- it never happens.

Well, what the heck? I went to the USGA's website for a tutorial on the computation of handicaps.  The introductory paragraph of "Understanding Your Handicap" says the following:
A player can obtain a USGA Handicap Index after posting five scores, but a truer value comes when a player posts 20 scores, the 10 best of which are used in figuring the Handicap Index. The index demonstrates what a golfer would shoot on his/her best day

Well, no wonder! My 10 worst scores don't figure into my handicap at all! Also, did you notice that sentence about your best day? Here's another passage from an article in the same website:

The USGA's Handicap Research Team tells us that the average player is expected to play to his Course Handicap or better only about 25 percent of the time, average three strokes higher than his Course Handicap, and have a best score in 20, which is only two strokes better than his Course Handicap.

Some complicated mathematics follow, involving things like course ratings, slopes, 113, with some incense and magic words thrown in for good measure...

Yikes! And I've been giving strokes to people with honest faces who tell me their average score is about the same as my index!

How do you get a handicap? The best way is to go to the nearest golf course, public or private, and join the men's club, or the women's club if you're female. I think most places will let females join the men's club if they want to play from the men's tees, but the converse usually isn't true. Post five scores, and you're off and running. Having an officially sanctioned USGA handicap lends credibility to your negotiations with other golfers. But using the computer programs is better than nothing.

Conclusions? Well, if you want your handicap to go down, your ten best scores have to improve! And, as you've long suspected, nobody anywhere cares what your ten worst scores were. And if you intend to bet on golfing, don't do it on the basis of your opponents' averages!


  1. This is very useful. I have heard and read that the Hdcp is suppose to measure the potential of players. I never thought about playing someone who who doesn't carry a handicap and wants to play with their avg score, that's bad.

    I thought the USGA manual was to difficult to read. I found this post which I thought was simple and useful explaining handicaps

    that's the website where I keep my hdcp

  2. Our local course doesn't have a membership, so no GHIN service. I'm going to talk to the part-time PGA Pro to see if our Friday 9-hole league might sponsor a USGA eligible "club" for GHIN handicapping...though our league's local rules might to be liberal for USGA handicapping-purposes.