Steve Carroll knows equity is at its heart but, as he struggles round the course each week, losing a shot in a competition doesn’t feel very fair to him
I arrived at my new club toting a solid single figure handicap. The members gave me a knowing smile. Let’s see where you are in a year, sunshine.
Well, here we are – 12 months later and I’m clinging to one digit on my World Handicap System index like my life depends upon it.
It’s a well-known convention in our clubhouse that new arrivals get worse before they get better. The course is tight, tricky, and there are a LOT of trees.
I’ve spent so much time around bark this season I’m in danger of turning into an Ewok.
So my handicap’s been creeping up inexorably as I navigate the ‘twin troubles’ of new surroundings and a form slump.
What’s the damage? Two full shots so far and no signs of it slowing up yet.
My poor play has brought with it a consequence which, even though WHS has been in place for nearly two years, had largely escaped me: the 95 per cent handicap allowance.
If your course handicap is 10 or under, you probably don’t even know it exists. Your playing handicap will never change.
But my current index of 9.4 – course handicap 11 – has now become a playing handicap of 10 in individual stroke play competitions. I’ve lost a shot and, you’ve guessed it, I hate it.
I understand the reasons. I can parrot them to you. When players shoot the lights out, they should do well on leaderboards whether they’re off 5 or 45. And 95 per cent handicap creates equity, otherwise higher handicappers would just win all the time.
That’s because club comps have more of them in the field and there’s a better chance they can have a good day off their bigger marks.
There are some sections of the internet that would have a problem with this line of reasoning but anyway, handicap experts tell me, it shouldn’t matter.
It doesn’t actually affect the score that goes on my WHS record. I only lose this shot during a competition.
Great. That makes it all better. I don’t play much social golf. I don’t play that much golf at all outside of weekends, actually.
I’m not really interested in putting in a general play score. I am still interested in competitions – despite my better judgement.
And, yet, when I play in one, I’m being punished to make it more equal for others. Even though I need all the help I can get!
Of course, 95 per cent isn’t new. But back in the days of .1s it was hidden. I preferred it that way.
Now it’s sitting there – literally printed on the scorecard – taunting me as I carve another rubbish drive towards the woods.
What is a shot anyway, you may say? I know it’s irrational. After all, turning 16-over-par into 15 isn’t going to be adding anything to my pro shop account.
I just can’t get over the feeling, though, that those of us who aren’t quite good enough for 95 per cent not to apply, but who are not carrying enough shots to escape what a double bogey or two can do to a score, are getting screwed.
Look, no handicap system is perfect and there are plenty of things about the new (ish) ways I really like.
My handicap is moving far quicker than it did before – and that is starting to account for the fact I’ve completely lost the ability to hit a green with a wedge from 90 yards.
I also like that it reflects the relative difficulties of courses by moving around depending on where you play.
But as I inevitably shuffle out of single figures entirely over the next few weeks, every time I see what 95 per cent does to my scorecard feels like I’m getting another kick in the groin.
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