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single figure handicap

It’s been 30 years of bogeys but I’ve finally found club golf’s Holy Grail

Steve Carroll has spent his entire golfing life vainly trying to get a single figure handicap. But, as he explains in his latest From the Clubhouse column, there has finally been a breakthrough
 

The season started with a list of numbers. Duncan McCarthy, who was coaching me at Leeds Golf Centre, called them the 5% performance goals. As targets go, they were pretty modest and they did exactly what they said on the tin.

They’ll be familiar to anyone who’s ever made a concerted effort to improve – increase fairways hit by 5%, improve GIR by the same, get up and down more from the sand. There was one objective that wasn’t on the list. But, in my mind, it was the most important of all.

It was to finally get my handicap below 10. Now there will be plenty of you scanning that and wondering what all the fuss is about.

After all, it’s not uncommon to be a single figure handicap. USGA statistics reveal that just under a third of players in America have an index of 9.9 or below.

But nothing’s ever come easy to me in this game – it’s partly why I love it so much.

Approaching 30, I still had a handicap of 24 but as I crossed the Rubicon and approached the middle years of my fourth decade, I pledged that I would finally put in the hours to see how good I could be – and be satisfied with the results as long as I could look myself in the mirror and say that I had given it my best.

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I’ve spent far too many hours to contemplate in driving ranges since – on cold nights, frigid Boxing Day mornings, and the sweltering heat of summers.

I’ve spent hundreds of pounds on lessons and thousands on new equipment I was certain would unlock the secret.

And I’ve played 141 qualifers and walked 549 miles. I’ve had 57 birdies, 842 pars, 1,149 bogeys and 510 doubles and worse. 

My best Stableford has been 43, my worst medal 101. I’ve had one hole-in-one and broken the 80 barrier on four occasions.

And finally, 32 years after I first picked up a club, I’ve hit a single figure handicap. Last year I got down to 10.0 and thought it was going to happen on the very next round.

single figure handicap

Instead, I watched my mark creep up past 11 and, following a 2018 where I’ve worked harder than ever before, I wondered if I would ever achieve what, for most of us, is club golf’s Holy Grail.

Then, in two glorious Stableford weeks, I finally managed it. Forty points in my club Sandburn Hall’s September Stableford was followed by 37 with a supplementary card a few days later. And there it was, finally staring at me on the screen, a mark of 9.4. A single figure handicap.

It feels weird to have done it – a mixture of pride but also relief and a knowing realisation that I may no longer be deemed a bandit after rolling in another unexpected 20-footer.

Now you’ll have to excuse me if I absent myself from competitions for the rest of the month. Having finally got down to a single figure handicap, I’m in no mood to give it up just yet. 

After all, with another winter of practice, who knows how low I can go? 

Out and about

single figure handicap

Where better to test my newfound mark than on European Tour standard fairways and greens?

I made my pro-am debut at the Portugal Masters thanks to Golfbreaks – taking on the Dom Pedro Victoria Course, in Vilamoura, where Tom Lewis picked up the trophy. 

I played with Spain’s Nacho Elvira, who was very good company and an exceptional driver of the ball on a big, resort-style layout.

As for me? I won’t lie, this was an eye-opener but perhaps not in the way you may think.

We always think of pros putting on lightning greens with devilish slopes but I actually found the surfaces to be relatively even paced and not massively difficult to read.

Where I particularly struggled was on the fairways. Tighter than some greens I’ve played on, it was very hard to get into the ball – with chunks and thins too frequent.

Did it spoil the day? Not one bit. It was an amazing experience.

Steve Carroll

Steve Carroll

A journalist for 25 years, Steve has been immersed in club golf for almost as long. A former club captain, he has passed the Level 3 Rules of Golf exam with distinction having attended the R&A's prestigious Tournament Administrators and Referees Seminar.

Steve has officiated at a host of high-profile tournaments, including Open Regional Qualifying, PGA Fourball Championship, English Men's Senior Amateur, and the North of England Amateur Championship. In 2023, he made his international debut as part of the team that refereed England vs Switzerland U16 girls.

A part of NCG's Top 100s panel, Steve has a particular love of links golf and is frantically trying to restore his single-figure handicap. He currently floats at around 11.

Steve plays at Close House, in Newcastle, and York GC, where he is a member of the club's matches and competitions committee and referees the annual 36-hole scratch York Rose Bowl.

Having studied history at Newcastle University, he became a journalist having passed his NTCJ exams at Darlington College of Technology.

What's in Steve's bag: TaylorMade Stealth 2 driver, 3-wood, and hybrids; TaylorMade Stealth 2 irons; TaylorMade Hi-Toe, Ping ChipR, Sik Putter.

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