One the main features of the new global golf handicap system will be a cap that prevents players from rising too quickly. But how will it work? Get your calculators out

Bandits beware. If you reckon you’re going to cheat the new World Handicap System (WHS), you may want to think again.

The maximum your handicap will be able to rise in a calendar year, when the global system comes into place in 2020, is FIVE strokes.

Want to know how they came up with that? Get your calculators out. You might need one.

When it was announced the WHS would use an average of the best eight from the last 20 scores, alarm bells went off for savvy players.

With golfers encouraged to put in ‘acceptable’ scores to count, whether competition or social, there was the fear some players might be less than honest.

For the more committed among the larcenous, there was the prospect they could flood their record with a raft of quick – bad – scores and wait for their handicaps to soar. Just in time to run off with a host of trophies.

But the WHS, being developed by the R&A and USGA, has built in protections to ward off those who aren’t as scrupulous as the rest of us.

It will also endeavour to protect the hard work of those who have simply hit a bad patch of form.

At their World Handicap System workshops earlier this year, England Golf revealed the “suppression mechanism” that will stop individual marks going up too severely.

You can call it ‘The Cap’.

It will work by first finding an anchor point, or a player’s low handicap index. This is the lowest handicap index a golfer has achieved within the last 12 months.

The cap will then limit the increase of that handicap index, again over the rolling 12 month period, “measured against the player’s lowest handicap index within that period of time”.

Got it so far? Good. Here’s where it gets a little more complex.

global golf handicap system

There are two forms of cap – soft and hard.

A soft cap means that when a new calculated handicap index is more than three strokes above the player’s lowest index within the trailing 12 months, the increase is suppressed so only half of any rise above three strokes is applied.

That’s a bit of a mouthful, so here’s the maths (using England Golf examples) to explain it a little better. This is where you may need the calculators…

I have a low handicap index of 12 over the last year. But my best 8 out of 20 scores now give me a calculated handicap index of 17.0.

In this case, I get an increase of three strokes before the soft cap is calculated.

That soft cap calculation, to get my exact return, uses this formula:

½ x (Calculated handicap index – (Low handicap Index + 3))

So that’s ½ x (17.0 – (12.0 + 3)).

Or to put it more simply: ½ x (17-15) or ½ x 2.

The soft cap, therefore, is an extra stroke (1/2 x 2 = 1) and my handicap increases by four shots (3+1). I’m now playing off 16.

But this isn’t the only cap coming into force.

There is also a hard cap, which is the maximum your mark can increase over that low handicap index in a rolling 12 months.

That number is five. So it doesn’t matter how many 1/2s you add on in the soft cap and it doesn’t matter how badly you’ve played in the intervening period. You can only increase a maximum of five shots in that period.

So if you take that player with a low handicap index of 12, but their best 8 out of 20 sees them coming out at 20, their handicap is capped at 17.

If you’re still with me, here’s the maths to prove it.

I’ve still got a low handicap index of 12. The first three shot rise takes that to 15.

My calculated handicap is 20 and 20 minus 15 (low handicap index + 3) is 5.

If there was no hard cap, five would be halved under the soft cap – equalling 2.5 – and my handicap would be 17.5.

But because that would be 5.5 strokes above my lowest handicap index over the previous 12 months, and the highest permissible increase is 5, my mark is capped at 17.

Breathe.

The great thing about this is you won’t actually need to know any of the maths. The handicap computer at your clubs will do all the calculations for you. You’ll just turn up and find out what your latest handicap index is.

But will it be enough to stop the cheaters? Let us know in the comments or tweet me at @SteveCarrollNCG