When I played in a competition last weekend I lost seven shots before I’d hit a ball and my partner lost five — effectively destroying our chances of winning although it must be said that those chances were not very high in the first place.
What made this wholesale robbery even more frustrating was that anyone playing off a handicap of scratch, one or two didn’t lose a shot and had my good friend Jordan, who plays off plus two, been playing he would have gained a shot. The rest of the competitors had their handicaps reduced to three-quarters, with the poor 28 handicappers like me being docked seven.
As puzzling as this may seem, I am assured it is all above board because we are talking about better-ball competitions.
Were I to play Jordan in a singles match he would have to give me 30 shots (Tiger Woods, incidentally, would only have to give me 28 because pros, for some reason, play off scratch when playing against amateurs). I should point out that neither would be alarmed at the prospect.
So why this anomaly? Why are they taking seven shots off a miserable wretch like me and giving one to a brilliant player?
CONGU, the organisation representing all the national golf unions, are responsible for the handicapping system and, in their infinite wisdom, decreed several years ago that high handicappers should be given all the shots they are entitled to in competitions.
There was an outcry from the lower handicappers who, working on the Al Capone principle of never giving a sucker an even break, forecast dire happenings in club tournaments with hackers rising up to claim all the cups.
Nothing of the sort happened, of course. Hackers had a better time of it generally — not getting beaten by as much as they used to be — but the pecking order of prize-winning has remained relatively unchanged.
For decades, the rule had been when a high handicapper played a lower he would receive three-quarters of the difference between the handicaps. I’ve tried to discover the reasons behind the three-quarters rule but have failed to find a definitive answer. We seemed to be one of the few countries in the world to arrive at that fraction.
CONGU studied years of statistics on both side of the Atlantic before concluding that it was decidedly unfair and decreed that the full difference should be given. Indeed, the science behind their studies indicated that for absolute fairness one and a quarter of the difference should apply. They decided, probably wisely, not to go that far but did say that the advantage still stayed with the lower handicapper.
But the one format to which they made no change was four-ball, better-ball. In match-play, the other three players continue to take their shots from the lowest handicapper, receiving three-quarters of the difference. In better-ball stroke-play competitions each player has his handicap reduced to three-quarters.
Of course, applying the three-quarter rule to a scratch player means he stays the same because it is rounded back up to scratch and the same applies to the one and two handicappers.
But once we get the plus handicappers it gets more complicated because you don’t round up from .5 as you do with minus handicaps. To get to plus one you have to reach .6. So the plus one stays the same but three-quarters of plus two is 1.5 and therefore he goes to plus one, thus gaining a shot.
Now, I have had an explanation of why this is fair and proper from a member of the Golf Union of Wales and I understood it over the telephone but I’m buggered if I can explain here and now. However, he has kindly offered to come down the club and explain it over a pint. When he does I will explain it to you but I will take the opportunity to complain about the apparent unfairness of it all.
Meanwhile, Mike and |I came back with a miserable 28 points which was by no means the lowest of the day. The winners came in with a staggering 48 points, despite the reduced handicaps. One plays off 14 and the other off 20. The match captain is being urged to apply his own three-quarter rule.