Dear Dr. Divot,
I make a point of turning in all of my scores – even nine-holers (and a few I’m not too proud of) – so I know my handicap is accurate. Problem is, some of the guys I play with seem to hone their handicaps to a number they like and then never turn in any score that would change it. What can I do? I’m tired of these guys getting strokes they don’t deserve.
Can’t say the ol’ Doc can blame you. A USGA handicap should represent your potential as a golfer, it’s not a prediction of what you’ll shoot on any given day, and it sure isn’t a measure of your manhood.
There are two kinds of cheaters, Frustrated, those who keep their handicap artificially low even though they know they can seldom play to it (we call them vanity handicaps), and those who inflate their handicaps so they get more strokes than they deserve. Most people call them “sandbaggers.”
When the bets are settled, the ones with “more vanity than game” end up paying-off most of the time, the sandbaggers collect more often than they should.
I don’t have too much of a problem with the vanity guys, Frustrated, I just try to avoid getting stuck with them as my partner.
I was playing at a famous course in Florida recently… the venue for a PGA Tour stop. Paired with three strangers, I went to the first tee hoping for a pleasant day on a great lay-out, when I saw one of these characters taking a few practice swings on the championship tee.
“What tees are you guys playing?” he asked. The Doc told him he would be on the second tees up (where his age and ability would be challenged, but not overwhelmed). This guy said he was going to play from the tips.
“Oh, really? What’s your handicap?” I asked. He was quick to respond: “Two,” he said before muttering under his breath “… or twenty, some days.”
Well, we got to play with this egomaniac on one of his thirty days! If he lost one ball, he lost a dozen and a half. And it was not fun to watch. Had he been playing by the Rules of Golf he wouldn’t have broken 110. But when he got home, I’ll just bet he told all of his buddies that he “played it from the tips” just like Tiger and Rory did.
The USGA tweaked its procedures a few years ago to insure greater transparency in the handicapping system.
The system is based on the concept of “peer review” – and peer pressure. All scores are accessible at your club, or on-line.
You get a chance to see someone’s potential ability when you play together in club-sponsored events, and you should have access to scoring records of fellow club members so you can be assured that the score they shot is really the score they posted. In most places there’s a computer somewhere in the pro shop or locker room so you can do just that.
I’ll tell you something, I’m no dermatologist, but nothing gets under the Doc’s skin more than peeking at the handicap record of guys I see on the course at least two or three times a week and finding that they haven’t turned in a score for over a month.
What do you look for? If you see a guy who intentionally misses putts near the end of a round, or after the outcome of a hole has already been determined… you might be watching a sandbagger;
If a player who usually shoots in the high 80s in casual rounds shoots 75 in the club championship… you might be looking at a sandbagger;
If you check the computer and see the suspect hasn’t posted a round in the low 80s since the Eisenhower administration, but he keeps collecting cash when the bets are settled… you might check his shoes for sand.
According to Dr. Dean Knuth, the guy who created the current system, scores should follow a bell- shaped curve: more than half of the scores should fall within 3 shots of your handicap. A golfer should better his handicap by three shots only once out of 20 rounds. If you want to learn more about handicapping and the odds of beating your index, go to www.popeofslope.com and see what Dr. Knuth has to say for yourself.
If you see a persistent pattern, Frustrated, talk to the handicap chairperson or head professional at your club or course. They might need to have a little heart-to-heart with these scoundrels.
By the way, if they cheat on their handicaps, you might want to keep a keen eye on them when they hit it into the rough.