You’re Now in Charge of the Handicap Committee. A “Real” Review.

JudgeWhat if you were in charge? What would you do with this golfer? It’s a “real” golfer at the club, but the numbers have been doctored just enough to disguise his identify. Would you adjust his handicap?

Here are the facts; you decide.

This golfer seems to win a little more often than other guys. He says he’s just been lucky, but how “lucky” can you get? His handicap index has fluctuated over the past year between 12.0 and 15.9. It’s currently 15.8, but he’s obviously capable of shooting better. In his past twenty rounds, he’s only had one that really stands out. He shot a 79. That’s not that big of deal for a guy in his handicap range. The USGA calculated odds are about 150-to-1 of posting a 79. He did have a little stretch eight or nine months ago where he had a couple of good rounds in twenty where the odds were in the range of 500-to-1, but that’s not all that unusual. All the other rounds have been average at best. He plays two or three days per week.

Can you make a decision on the basis of these facts? If so what is it? Leave him alone or lower his handicap?

The Handicap Committee actually looks a little closer. Here are a couple of the more esoteric factors that may be considered. Let’s see what you do with them. When analyzing his hole-by-hole performance, it becomes apparent he seems to have a little more difficulty than most golfers on the last hole. It may be coincidence. It may be that he’s just getting tired. It may also be possible that the match is settled by the 18th hole and he tends to lose his focus slightly when the putt doesn’t count for anything.

His “deviation” from his average score seems to be a little higher than the average golfer. For a golfer in his handicap range, we usually see about 70% of the scores coming in within plus or minus about three strokes from the average. In this guy’s case, the range is about four strokes. That could simply mean he’s an erratic player. It could also mean he can go a little lower when he “wants” to and a little higher when he doesn’t “need” to play well.

There are other variables that may shed additional light on the matter, but those presented should tell the story well enough. What else should be considered?

You’re in the hot seat. What’s your call? Leave him alone or adjust his handicap? If so, by how much? Why?

Now let’s remove the fact that he “seems to win a little more often than the other guys.” Let’s say he hasn’t won a nickel. Is your decision the same even if none of the other numbers have changed? What do you do if you “like” him? How about the case where you don’t like him?

Let’s hear your thoughts? I’d love to see them posted as comments for all to see, but I’ll also be happy to protect your identity if you prefer to send me your comments via private email. Tag – You’re it!

Author: h. Alton Jones

writer/scientist/adventurer

10 thoughts on “You’re Now in Charge of the Handicap Committee. A “Real” Review.”

  1. To adjust or not adjust, that is the question ! This individual may be a borderline example of needing either an adjustment or at east having a discussion with. Are his wins with a better than average score in a tournament or in one of his weekly games with friends. If the match is over by the sixteenth hole and his score elevates on the last hole or two is consistent, it could be more than “being tired”. However, if the last hole is the Arroyo 9th or the Dunes 9th, it could be legit. I know I have serious problems with those two holes. However, I usually lose by having a high score on those holes rather than winning. If this player usually has a good score on the final hole when he needs it to win but has a higher score if not a factor in winning the match, it would concern me. Obviously, this data must be retrievable to make your point. In tournament events, I do believe players are more focused on their game as winning a “big event” is good for the ego. I try to win every game I play so I am motivated to “be in the money” all the time.

    I would add here, that another issue that needs to be addressed by the handicap committee is having an “oversight” program in place to make certain all scores of legitimate rounds of golf be posted or be subject to some penalty adjustment. There are ways that this can be monitored and should be in place. This will correct a lot of handicaps that do not correctly represent a player’s true skill level.

    Dennis Kildare (putt out all balls that count)

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  2. The information provided is insufficient to make an adjustment to this golfer’s handicap. Indeed, only one of his last 20 scores (5% of the time) does he score a net 64 or so. This is within the realm of reasonable probability. The fact the he is “lucky” must be viewed as to with whom he is lucky (is it always the same players and circumstance?). The mere fact that he wins is not pertinent. The fact that he “tends” to score higher on the 9th holes (all with water hazards) reflects, in part their existence and hence added degree of difficulty. Trying to dissect some latent motivation seems a bit over the top; we needn’t be that paranoid. He should probably be watched further; but the information simply doesn’t warrant anything so drastic as a handicap adjustment. This person is what many handicap committees refer to as a “Wild Willy”, as opposed to a “Steady Eddy”, the first being a middle-to-high handicapper who can throw a low score out like his (net 65), as opposed to the lower handicapper, who is steady, and rarely throws out a significantly low (net) score.

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    1. Here are the player’s last twenty differentials – 17.1, 17.2, 24.5, 17.8, 22.5, 19.5, 24.1, 18.7, 23.9, 19.9, 18.4, 18.1, 19.8, 20.5, 21.7, 19.8, 17.8, 19.6, 24.0, 9.8.

      Here are the previous twenty differentials – 23.9, 17.1, 20.2, 20.2, 12.1, 12.1, 21.9, 19.8, 19.4, 21.9, 19.7, 19.7, 14.6, 21.0, 14.5, 10.8, 8.9, 18.5, 20.9, 15.2, 19.0

      If you would like more, let me know.

      With regard to “timeliness”, the column did say he plays two or three times per week. Divide the number of rounds you’re evaluating by 2.5 and you’ll have the approximate time period.

      I have no idea what a “trig chart” might be, but I have indeed plotted his scores, deviations, etc. on the appropriate charts. However, the goal is not to “get technical”; the goal is to serve the membership in the best way possible in monitoring handicaps and performance.

      Not only do I agree that “certain behaviors cannot always be determined with certainty”, I’ll take it a step further and say “no behavior can be determined with certainty.” If it could, there would be no need for the Handicap Committee (or handicaps for that matter) in the first place. All “models” are probabilistic. Even the famed Schroedinger Equation is probablistic, i.e., it only estimates the “probability” that a given particle exists at some point in space and time.

      You ask, “Do these scores reflect random rather than determined occurrance?” Interesting – that is precisely the question the column asked in the first place. What is your answer? The Handicap Committee is charged with the responsibility of acting – when appropriate – on these matters. But it isn’t always a simple charge.

      It seems by your comments that you’re indicting “numbers” as inappropriate in such matters. I suggest that numbers are all we have. They are the only thing we have. Those that have an understanding of numbers can identify patterns that tell a story. If you don’t use the numbers, we have nothing. Perhaps a USGA sanctioned ouija board would do the trick, but even a ouija board has numbers on it.

      The entire USGA Handicap system is built upon numbers. We’re using them just as is the USGA. A survey of the club membership said they want a more pro-active Handicap Committee. That is our mission and that will be our accomplishment. This column about a “real golfer” was written to solicit input and to educate others as to the challenges facing the Committee. But until someone suggests a reasonable alternative, I’m going to be sticking with the numbers.

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  3. If the information provided is insufficient, what additional information would one require to make it sufficient?

    Also note that the fact that the finishing hole is more difficult doesn’t come into play. The numbers are adjusted (normalized) to the overall field scoring averages and then adjusted to reflect the golfer’s performance compared to all other holes. In other words, the difficulty factor has been totally filtered out of the picture.

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  4. I’d like to see additional scores of this player, not merely the last 20. Also are the last 20 scores timely? Are they within the last month, or 6 months (timeliness)? What is his trend? If you want to get all that technical, has his trend been charted on trig graphs? What other stochastics do you suggest? Do these scores reflect random rather than determined occurrance? How is human behavior numerically pre-dretermined? The Handicap Committee has its responsibility, but certain behaviors cannot always be determined with certainty. In the end, the committee does the best it can, given what information it has. Finite math has its limits. Human behavior does not.

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  5. Whilst I enjoyed reading your piece (as I always do) I wonder whether we can get up our own backsides too easily in considering the validity of individuals’ playing handicaps. So many esoteric factors, so little time to enjoy our lives!
    I’d leave the featured golfer’s handicap alone, although I have to declare my bias as a golfer who’s racked up more triple bogeys on 9 Dunes than most, either ruining a pretty good and competitive round or confirming the abject incompetence of the previous 17 holes!
    I really don’t care about a golfer who can, when ‘flying’, shoot 79 off a handicap of 15 or 16, though generally shoots early/mid 80s.
    I also shrug admiringly when a 12/14 handicap golfer often shoots really well in featured golf events; adrenaline and the turn-on of a public event can do that.
    No, I resent the golfers who clutch their ‘historic’ 16 handicap as if their manhood depends upon it, when they’ve rarely broken 90 in the last 15 years – I always get a guy like that in my drawn team events!!!!

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  6. Howard:
    I always wondered about Schroedinger’s cat…but determining a person’s handicap is much more serious. In my opinion, I would continue to monitor this individual. I would not vote to take any action immediately. If he performs better than the norm again (as in a second “T” score), I’d then be moved to have a discussion with the player and pending that, to perhaps adjust his handicap.

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  7. What if you were in charge? What would you do with this golfer? It’s a “real” golfer at the club, but the numbers have been doctored just enough to disguise his identify. Would you adjust his handicap?

    Here are the facts; you decide.

    This golfer seems to win a little more often than other guys. He says he’s just been lucky, but how “lucky” can you get? His handicap index has fluctuated over the past year between 12.0 and 15.9. It’s currently 15.8, but he’s obviously capable of shooting better. In his past twenty rounds, he’s only had one that really stands out. He shot a 79. That’s not that big of deal for a guy in his handicap range. The USGA calculated odds are about 150-to-1 of posting a 79. He did have a little stretch eight or nine months ago where he had a couple of good rounds in twenty where the odds were in the range of 500-to-1, but that’s not all that unusual. All the other rounds have been average at best. He plays two or three days per week.

    Can you make a decision on the basis of these facts? If so what is it? Leave him alone or lower his handicap?

    I can’t make a decision based on these facts alone. I assume that his wins are during normal weekly group events and not major money tournaments. If required to make a decision based on just these facts above, I would recommend leaving him alone.

    The Handicap Committee actually looks a little closer. Here are a couple of the more esoteric factors that may be considered. Let’s see what you do with them. When analyzing his hole-by-hole performance, it becomes apparent he seems to have a little more difficulty than most golfers on the last hole. It may be coincidence. It may be that he’s just getting tired. It may also be possible that the match is settled by the 18th hole and he tends to lose his focus slightly when the putt doesn’t count for anything.

    His “deviation” from his average score seems to be a little higher than the average golfer. For a golfer in his handicap range, we usually see about 70% of the scores coming in within plus or minus about three strokes from the average. In this guy’s case, the range is about four strokes. That could simply mean he’s an erratic player. It could also mean he can go a little lower when he “wants” to and a little higher when he doesn’t “need” to play well.

    There are other variables that may shed additional light on the matter, but those presented should tell the story well enough. What else should be considered?

    Five questions that could change my above response: 1. Was the run of good scores when there was a significant tournament involved? 2. What kind of events did he win – individual performance or some variation of a team performance (2 or 4 man teams)? 3. Was he winning when his index was 12 as well as when it was 15.8? 4. Is there any correlation between his questionable outlier scores and the type of game being played? 5. Does his index trend up or down depending on upcoming events?

    You’re in the hot seat. What’s your call? Leave him alone or adjust his handicap? If so, by how much? Why?

    Leave him alone. My answer to this question is based on your statement that the facts “presented should tell the story well enough.” Answer the five questions above and I might change my mind.

    Now let’s remove the fact that he “seems to win a little more often than the other guys.” Let’s say he hasn’t won a nickel. Is your decision the same even if none of the other numbers have changed?

    I don’t think I would have to consider this guy – he is flying below the radar. Why would anyone bring his name before the committee if he wasn’t pissing someone off? Or do you run a program that identifies these outliers regardless of winnings? If yes, and if I have to consider him regardless of winnings, I don’t think my analysis would be any different than what is stated above.

    What do you do if you “like” him? How about the case where you don’t like him?

    I think your process of considering cases before the Handicap Committee uses a blind analysis (like this scenario). This question should not come into play. I should only be saying “too bad, he’s a nice guy” or “he got what he deserves” after the decision has been made. If I know the individual before the analysis, I am pretty sure my decision would be objective in either case.

    Let’s hear your thoughts? I’d love to see them posted as comments for all to see, but I’ll also be happy to protect your identity if you prefer to send me your comments via private email. Tag – You’re it!

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