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!

Cheaters Identified by the Handicap Committee

CheaterWho hasn’t bemoaned the existence of the “handicap managers”? Those who manipulate their handicaps – sometimes slightly, other times dramatically – have always existed. I’ve played golf for over a half century and I’ve never seen a tournament winner that wasn’t a sandbagger, at least in the eyes of a few disgruntled losers.

Frankly, it gets old watching as the same people seem to win over and over again while other golfers haven’t been spotted in the winner’s circle since the early Pleistocene era. If you’ve been a club member for ten years and have never taken home the trophy, someone’s got to be cheating, right? After all, the handicap system is supposed to level the playing field and statistically there’s a greater chance of a blowup doll named Naomi falling from the sky than there is of you going ten years without ever having a sniff of victory. You’re not winning because someone is cheating.

The cheater is you! That’s right; you’re cheating yourself out of victory. When you go out on the golf course and improve your lie, you’re cheating. You may save a stroke or so every round. When you give yourself the three foot putt, you’re cheating. Everyone misses one once in a while. If you take a putt, your scores are going to be a half to a whole stroke lower than they realistically should be. When you play a Mulligan, you’re cheating. Take an illegal drop and you’re cheating. “Oh, give me a double-bogey” when you’re already laying six and you’re not on the green yet. You’re cheating.

In all these cases, you’re cheating yourself. You’re consistently coming in with scores that are one, two or more strokes lower than they really should be. If everybody in your group plays by the same “relaxed” rules, you’re giving each other tacit approval for cheating yourselves.

Everyone wants to have a lower handicap (except in tournaments), but if you cheat at Solitaire, did you really win the game? If you’re carrying an ego handicap, you can brag all you want, but it’s not going to be about your winnings. You’re not going to have any.

I hate to burst your bubble, but there’s not a lot you can do when you’re competing against a guy with an “honest” handicap, i.e., he plays by the rules, when you’re spotting him two strokes because you’re too embarrassed to write down a triple-bogey when you get on.

When you’re handicap is artificially low, what chance do you have? This doesn’t even begin to take into account how to compete against those who “manage” their handicaps to make them artificially higher. Why worry about them? You’ve already lost the tournament.

Does that mean we shouldn’t be concerned with the more devious handicap managers? No, not at all. But that’s a topic for another column. (And it’s coming!)