Fun with golf handicaps - no, really

March 7, 2014

During one of the recent snowstorms gracing the Mid-Atlantic, I drove over to Severna Park, Md., to the Chartwell Golf & Country Club, to learn as much as I could in a one-day USGA Handicap Seminar.

I had a lot of fun - no, really, I did.

The snow covering the fairways and greens kept the 80 or so attendees from thinking about whether they would have preferred to try their luck on the 1960-era layout. The energetic presentation by Cindy Cooper of the USGA also staved off the prospect of any boredom overtaking us.

Cooper is the manager of the USGA’s Handicap and Club Licensing Administration, and was obviously well practiced in leading the program, being offered 18 times throughout the country this winter and spring.

Golf clubs such as those in the Cape Region obtain a formal license from the USGA to use the organization’s handicapping system. Versions of these rules have been in place for more than a century, with the current system largely in place since 1987. They are intended to promote fair competition among golfers, regardless of apparent skill.

As Cooper was quick to note, any such handicapping system depends upon three factors: the general acceptance of its procedures and practices, the dedication of a club’s handicap committee to oversee how the players conform to the rules, and a willingness to engage in sometimes tough-minded peer review.

That last part generated the funniest reactions among the attendees, most of whom admitted to being either the chairman of or a member of their respective club’s handicap committees.

For example, Cooper explained how the handicap committees are expected to take action when a player’s scoring history doesn’t match up to past performance, likely skill, or plain logic.

One case study we reviewed involved a golfer who played as a guest at another golf course in a four-day competitive tournament. He said he played to a 17 handicap.

For the uninitiated, that means that on a very good day, on a course of average difficulty, he could expect to shoot 17 strokes above par. Because the handicap system takes scoring potential into account, a net score of par would be expected perhaps 25 percent of the time he played this course.

That’s not what happened.

While the increasingly incredulous attendees watched, Cooper’s PowerPoint slide slowly displayed this golfer’s four-day tournament performance - a net 62 to start, followed by a net 60, a net 61, and a net 58 on the last round.

Cooper then asked the group what should happen. Several spontaneous outbursts of “shoot him” generated a mixture of laughter and applause.

At this point, there was nothing the tournament holders could do. This player’s remarkable performance won the tournament by a wide margin, and created an obvious uproar to boot.

The folks running the tournament did the next best thing, and notified the handicap committee of the suspiciously astounding golfer’s home club.

That committee sent him a notice and gave him an opportunity to explain this amazing string of performances. He suggested that he had the “round of his life,” neglecting to point out which of these four rounds met that goal. He also said that they played lift, clean and place, and that he had a lot of one-putts.

Do tell.

Cooper then told us that the committee applied two options to address his misconduct, both permitted under the USGA’s Handicap System.

They withdrew the golfer’s Handicap Index for a year, essentially barring him from any golf tournament where an index is required for play. If he applied for reinstatement of his index after that first year, a condition of any reinstatement was that his index would be set at 0.0 for 12 months, forcing him to compete as a scratch golfer.

The seminar covered many other interesting topics, some of which will be covered in upcoming columns. If you have any interest in golf handicapping, these sessions are well worth the modest fee and the day trip.

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