Between cart path restrictions, new grass, wet spots, soft spots, hard spots and unfilled divots, the course is playing tough. The average gross score in Friday’s Kildare match was over 91 strokes, one of the highest averages ever recorded. Everyone survived, but some just barely. The team of Mike Nichols and Tom Hansen finished on top of the leaderboard two strokes in front of the team of Bruce Partridge and Mike Hickey and the team of Dave Inman and Nick De Santis. Ten teams braved the course. Nichols won low gross and Dan Hourihan won low net. He was the only golfer to shoot his handicap.
What proved to be more interesting than the match itself was the discussion of the format and its “fairness”. It’s a word that’s not really in my dictionary, but when dealing with handicapped golf competitions, it’s a concept that can’t be ignored. To set the stage for the dialog, understand that the match consisted of two-man teams playing a best ball match where odd holes called for the best net ball of the team while even numbered holes required a best gross ball of the twosome. In an effort to level the playing field, the teams were built such that the combined handicaps were the same for each team. This meant that the lowest handicap golfer was paired with the highest handicap golfer. The process continues until it meets itself in the middle. In other words, the final team consists of two golfers with roughly equal handicaps midway between the highest and lowest handicaps. This raises the question . . .
Is it “fair” for a team composed of a six and a twenty-five handicap to compete against a team consisting of two fifteen handicap golfers playing in a format where half of the holes depend on a best gross ball?
The simple answer to the question is “No”. After analyzing thousands of rounds of golf played at Gainey Ranch, it becomes apparent the team with the low handicapper can be expected to score gross par or better on a given hole approximately sixty percent of the time. For the fifteen handicappers, par or better is expected about fifty percent of the time. Advantage – low handicap golfer. Case closed? Not on your life.
There is no match format that doesn’t offer some element of unfairness. More often than not, the advantage goes to the higher handicap golfers. But the inevitability of inequity doesn’t in of itself justify unfairness. In Friday’s match, the team with the widest division of handicaps finished third. Does this prove the deck was stacked? The team with the third highest differential finished next to last. Does this prove the playing field was level?
If you look carefully at the picture above, one of the lines on the chart shows there is a strong correlation between “net score” and finishing position. Wow. What a concept. Play better relative to your handicap and you finish closer to the top. Go figure.
So what have I proven here? Not much really. I’ve shown that someone that plays better than his competitor usually beats his competitor. I’ve shown that “fair” probably doesn’t exist. Maybe I’ve shown that “if you torture numbers enough, they will confess to anything.” If you make the putt, you make the cut. And as Benjamin Disraeli supposedly said, “There are three kinds of untruths, lies, damned lies and statistics.”