Tales from your Handicap Committee

If you’re not a “math guy”, this may be of little interest. Unless that is, you’re interested in reading a simple “how to piece” on how to manipulate your handicap. Before I get started, let me point out that there are those – on and off the Handicap Committee – that don’t believe the “numbers” can reveal anything. What follows is an example of what the numbers can tell us. You be the judge. And yes, this is very real data for a very real golfer at Gainey. It may have been moved to slightly to mask the identity of this golfer, but it is real.

John Doe DifferentialsThis particular member plays a fair amount of his golf on courses other than his home course. The chart below shows his posted differentials for a substantial (read: statistically significant) period of time. The blue diamonds show his differentials when playing on Gainey Ranch G.C. The red squares are his posted differentials when playing at away courses.

A couple of things immediately jump out at you. Home differentials are clearly randomly distributed around roughly thirteen. The actual number isn’t the important thing; it’s the distribution that is significant. You can see they range from a low of around seven to a high of roughly twenty. If you analyze the distribution, it is what you would expect for someone in this golfer’s handicap range, i.e., standard deviation of around three strokes. Ninety-five percent of the differentials should (given the laws of statistics) fall between approximately seven and nineteen. What an amazing coincidence – they do!

Now look at the away scores. Their average is closer to sixteen, nearly three strokes higher than those recorded at Gainey. Does this fact imply handicap manipulation? Maybe – maybe not. It can certainly be argued that Gainey Ranch’s handicap doesn’t “travel well”. I’m confident there’s an element of truth to that. You can also make a case that a golfer isn’t as familiar with away courses and a lack of course knowledge results in higher scores. Perhaps this is true, but how many times can that excuse be used? After all, once you’ve played a particular course four or five times, you should have a pretty good level of familiarity and that excuse tends to evaporate into the morning mist.

For the sake of this discussion, let’s temporarily accept that a three stroke difference in the scoring average is acceptable. If that’s the case, shouldn’t the entire grouping of data points move up approximately three strokes? For this golfer, it does, but . . .

The “randomness” disappears! It’s as if the entire bottom half of the distribution is missing! Could it be that the scores weren’t posted “properly”? Hell yes. That’s one possible explanation. The standard deviation of away postings is approximately one stroke! This seems to be statistically “improbable” (for those of you not paying attention, this is called a gross understatement).

An average differential of sixteen with a standard deviation of one stroke means that ninety-five percent of this golfer’s away differentials fall within the range of fourteen and eighteen. This is well within the “you must be joking” range of statistical probabilities.

There are possible explanations. For example, it could be that by playing a more difficult course with which you have no familiarity whatsoever magically makes you a much steadier and more consistent golfer than you are at home. To me, that’s like saying the more you drink, the better you drive.

There are a couple of other explanations. I’ll sit back and see if any of you come up with them and post them as comments here. In the meantime, I continue to do battle with those who say numbers don’t prove anything and I’ll watch to see how this golfer performs in the upcoming Member/Member tournament. This golfer isn’t alone. He has company. I’d love to say, “If you don’t mind, I don’t mind”, but I do. It’s my job.

The Curse of the Scorekeeper

ScorecardSome say half the club’s golfers are padding their handicaps. Well, if it ain’t me – it must be you. That’s sometimes how it feels. The same guys seem to spend more than their fair share of time in the winner’s circle while some of us have permanent seats in the back row. How is that possible?

We already established the average golfer does more to hurt his own chances of winning than the biggest cheaters in any club – albeit innocently and unknowingly – but that is the reality. Ego handicaps don’t win tournaments. But there’s another guy at the club that hurts your chances more than you might imagine – the scorekeeper.

There are so many misconceptions about scorekeeping, it’s a wonder some guy’s handicaps are within three strokes of the “real” number. If you’re going to be the scorekeeper, consider the following.

You’re playing a best ball of two format. You shoot a birdie three for a net eagle. Your partner’s ball is on the green laying three twenty feet from the hole. He picks up and says “Gimme a seven. That’s the max I can take.” You’re response is . . .

  1. “You bet” as you write a seven on the card.
  2. “Don’t worry. We don’t need you.” You leave his score blank on the card.
  3. “Up your’s Bubba. I’m putting you down for a five.”
  4. “I’m giving you par plus the stroke you get here – a five.”
  5. You say nothing, but write a three on the card knowing the s.o.b. is going to pad his handicap anyway and you’re not going to help.

The one and only correct answer in this case is “Up your’s Bubba.” The “Good Book”, a.k.a., The USGA Handicap System manual, is very clear on this matter in Section 4-1.

“A player who starts, but does not complete a hole or is conceded a stroke MUST record for handicap purposes the most likely score.”

If you’re living by what the “Good Book” says, you MAY NOT leave the player’s score blank simply because his ball didn’t count in the match. Neither may you simply give the player his maximum allowable score under the rules of “Equitable Stroke Control”. If you do, you’re aiding and abetting in the crime.

There are those who are under the impression that someone who doesn’t finish a hole is to be given par plus any handicap strokes allotted on the hole. NOT so. This technique is to be used if and only if – after the round is complete – the score on the hole is left blank and the player can’t be found or can’t recall what his correct score was on the hole in question. It is the solution of last resort.

Here’s an interesting little tidbit. I’ve heard a number of explanations. At this moment in time, the first fifteen prize money positions on the Men’s Day Money List are held by members of the Kildare Group. What’s your explanation? I suggest to you that the single biggest contributing factor is Dennis Kildare’s insistence upon a rigorous adherence to the Rules of Golf. All putts go into the hole. Scores are properly recorded. No “gimmes”. The ball is played “down”. The odds of the first fifteen positions being held by guys from a group that is comprised of only a third of the Men’s Day golfers are pretty low. But the odds that fifteen guys are conspiring together to cheat for fun and profit are far lower. There’s another explanation. If it’s not coming to you yet, you may want to start reading from the top of this column again.

If you want the handicap system to work and you’re the scorekeeper – know your job and do it per the rules. DO NOT leave scores blank simply because the ball wasn’t counted in the match at hand.

One other thing you might want to do is double-check to make sure the golfers with whom you played properly recorded their scores for handicap purposes (with Equitable Stroke Control – properly applied).

Keep score properly and you may find yourself in the winner’s circle at last.

 

 

 

Handicap Committee Meeting Summary

Three StoogesThursday’s Handicap Committee meeting was lengthy, but highly productive. There were a total of seven golfers reviewed in detail. Under the new review process, golfers are identified not only in the traditional manner, i.e., member “requests”, but also by a number of statistical “triggers”. Exceptional rounds, groups of exceptional rounds and positions on various money lists trigger automatic reviews. One of the golfers under review at the meeting would stun most members, but if your numbers trip the wire, you’re reviewed. “Win the game, take the blame.” No exceptions – fair to everyone. If you’re reviewed, it doesn’t mean anyone thinks you’re cheating. It simply says, “You’ve played well. Congratulations.” And don’t forget, the review process is now “blind”. No voting member of the Committee knows who is under review until after recommendations have been made and acted upon.

There were a number of requests in the “Suggestion Box” located by the posting computer in the pro-shop. Those who identified themselves will receive personal responses. There was one anonymous suggestion of using only Wednesday scores to prepare a special handicap for Men’s Day play. The idea was researched and the Committee agreed that although it had merit, it would be too difficult to implement. It called for an excessive amount of work for an already burdened club staff.

This isn’t to say we didn’t recognize the reason for the request. We did an extensive amount of research on golfer’s handicaps when based upon only Wednesday play. We found that some players do indeed seem to get “luckier” when playing on Wednesdays. We have some of them identified and are taking steps to help them spread out their luck in a more realistic fashion. It is one of many factors that are being looked at closely when the golfer reviews take place. I’m sure this will become more apparent as time goes by and the new Handicap Committee’s efforts get traction.

Keep your thoughts and suggestions coming. The more of us that work together toward our common goal, the greater our successes will be.

One other item of note, the web survey on grass length in the arroyos showed that more than 75% of the membership feels the club is headed in the right direction and supports making them true hazards. There is a new survey on the site. If you have an opinion of fivesomes on the course, be sure to cast your vote at http://www.GaineyGolf.org.

The MGA Takes a Stand on Fair Play

Scales of JusticeIt hasn’t been without controversy, but the MGA Board of Directors has elected to follow USGA guidelines in the upcoming Member/Member tournament. Some members rejoice while others recoil in anger. But the undeniable fact is that the application of the USGA recommended “handicap allowances” to the teams playing in the tournament makes the format a fair format rather than one that is skewed toward the higher handicap players. It doesn’t put high handicappers at a disadvantage. It merely removes their unfair advantage.

In a nutshell, the USGA has spent countless thousands of dollars and innumerable hours researching the matter. They have solidly recommended that in cases where two-man teams compete using the best of the two balls, the field is not level unless a 90% allowance of all player’s handicaps is used. Nearly every golf club in the nation uses the USGA recommendation when playing a best ball format tournament. The Gainey Ranch Golf Club Handicap Committee recommends the use of the allowance. Numerous authors in golf journals and other publications say use the allowance. Anyone with a strong mathematics background will recognize and understand the need to use allowance in these situations.

However, a few either don’t understand it or don’t believe it for some other reason and feel it is unfair. Quite the contrary, it is unfair only if it is not used. (I guess it’s also possible some of the nabobs fully understand the matter and just resist giving up their unfair advantage, but I doubt it.)

For those of you masochists that would like to punish your senses with a highly simplified version of the mathematics associated with adopting the USGA policy, a copy of the Handicap Committee’s recommendation to the MGA Board is available here. Some have found that reading this document also helps cure insomnia. It has also been said that it looks sufficiently “official” that it can help someone delay routine household chores for at least a short time.

When the dusInmant settles, most MGA members will undoubtedly realize that the most lucrative tournament of the year will now be played on a level playing field. I encourage some of you that have not played in the past to reconsider this year. It promises to be a great tournament, but more importantly, you’ll stand on the first tee and know that your chances are better than ever.

Kudos to Dave Inman and the MGA Board for taking a firm stand on fair play.

A Tidbit from the Handicap Committee

Mouse in trapHere’s an interesting little tidbit. A look at the last roughly thousand or so rounds of competitive golf at Gainey Ranch reveals an amazing coincidence.

When four-man teams play, the average gross score has been 86.3. When two-man teams play, the average gross score has been 87.9.

What conclusions can we draw from this statistically anomalous fact? Choose your favorite.

  • Better golfers prefer four-man teams.
  • Lousy golfers prefer two-man teams.
  • Some golfers score better when they don’t have another team watching them.
  • Group hugs amongst four-man teams produce a better golf swing.
  • While the cat’s away, the mouse bumps his cheese, but only if it’s in a divot.

Over a stroke and a half difference in the averages! Go figure.

Might be a good idea to reduce the number of four-man team events and have more two-man team events (or ban group hugs).

Monday’s Experiment in Golf

mad_scientistA dozen golfers competed in a laboratory of golf handicapping Monday. The mad scientist putting the match together argued that

  • if the golf handicapping system has validity and
  • if the courses are properly rated and
  • if handicaps are reasonable and fair,

Then it shouldn’t make a difference which set of tees the individual players used in the match.

Each individual was allowed to select any rated set of tees from which to participate. The only conditions were that once selected, the entire round had to be played from those tees and if you selected a set of tees that was rated only for women (the red tees), you had to play the round in a mini-skirt and lace panties. Bruce Partridge was the only golfer who selected the red tees. He found a mini-skirt to wear, but fortunately for the other golfers, his lace panties were still in the laundry. He dropped back to the gold tees when he couldn’t find other panties that fit.

The results of the experiment tended to confirm the validity of the USGA Handicap System and the way it rates courses.

There was a first place team on the front nine and a first place team on the back side. There were skins, both gross and net. What would you expect? Did anyone have an unfair edge? The results may surprise you.

  • First place – front nine: Jim Mantle (green) and Scott Hull (white)
  • First place – back nine: Howard Jones (gold) and Tom Hansen (white)
  • Skins: Marwan Jalili (green), Jim Mantle (3) (green), Scott Hull (white), Gary Reibman (gold), Tom Hansen (2) (white), Mike Forde (green)

Walkup’s First Law of Statistics is “Everything correlates with everything else.” The question is causation. Just because one thing follows another doesn’t necessarily mean that one thing causes the other. However, in this case, I’m not sure how to establish causation when there appears to be no correlation whatsoever. Admittedly, twelve golfers don’t make up a substantial enough sample size to prove anything beyond a shadow of a doubt, but on the basis of Monday’s results, the USGA system seems to work pretty well.

In some tournaments, we allow golfers whose handicaps and age added together total 90 to play from the forward tees. Monday’s experiment tends to suggest golfers should be able to play from whatever tees they like. They can select tee color solely to match their outfits or eye color. The USGA Handicap System is designed to level the playing field. It clearly worked here. However, further testing is required on the “lace panties” theory. I’ll keep you up-to-date.

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!