Handicap Hub: Handicapping Head-Scratchers
Part I: Reduction of Indexes Due to Exceptional T-Scores
By Kelly Neely, Sr. Director, Handicapping & Course Rating
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This is article No. 1 in a series of Handicapping Head-Scratchers – procedures within the USGA Handicap System that puzzle and perplex. Looking for clarity? We can help.
Ah, spring at the Oregon Golf Association; the air is full of the heavy hum of mowers and the satisfying crack of golf balls being hit. But there’s another familiar sound ringing in my ears, and that is the phone – especially on the 1st and the 15th (Happy Handicap Revision Day!). The main reason for the cacophony of calls to the Handicapping Department is that spring is the time of year that the number of OGA members with reduced (“R”) handicaps (due to exceptional tournament scores, or T-scores) rises significantly. Normal, mild-mannered golfers will suddenly become baffled, protesting with the following: What does the R mean? How is it calculated? Why is it kicking in now? How long must I be punished?!
Great questions. To start with, we need to circle back to basic principles.
The objective of the USGA Handicap System is to regularly arrive at a number defining the golfer’s peak performance – what is termed “potential ability.” On revision day, the player’s best 10 out of 20 current rounds (your Handicap Index) are reviewed, along with their two best T-scores in the last 12 months. The system will compare these two numbers, noting the existence and size of the gap between them. If there is a gap of at least three strokes – meaning the player’s T-scores were that much better than their current handicap – there is a good chance that the system will automatically reduce the handicap. Note the word “automatically” – this is very important, since ALL Handicap Indexes issued in the country have this calculation applied. The OGA doesn’t do it, your club’s Handicap Chair doesn’t do it, the IRS doesn’t do it. The R also is not some sort of scarlet letter, tagging the golfer as shady.
Nope, just more math at work, trying to get the player’s Index in line with their true potential ability.
Here’s what I mean – if your best 10 out of 20 calculation is around 18, and the average of your two best T-scores is 12, you might expect to get a reduction of between 13.9R and 17.0R. What will clinch the deal is how many T-scores you have in your scoring record in the past 12 months. Fewer T-scores equals more of a chance for a reduction. Conversely, the more tournaments you play, the greater the odds of eventually scoring well in a couple of them, so the system will go easier on you.
One of the comments I hear during the phone calls is “But I only had one good T-score last summer!” You might be remembering your game that way, but the system really does allow one good round. It’s when you have two or more in a revolving 12-month period that deeper analysis kicks in.
Why is springtime significant to this subject? Remember, the system is looking at the average of your two best T-scores against your handicap – and last summer or fall, when you were already playing well and your Index was low, there wasn’t that gap that I mentioned. But as time goes on, those scores might drop out of your current 20 – in this case out of sight AND mind. T-scores age and your best 10 out of 20 calculation climbs back up. Now suddenly, the gap is widened. This can also happen if you take the winter off, and / or you begin playing again in soggy spring conditions – which means higher scores. Inadvertently you are creating distance from those older T-scores, and the system catches it and issues a reduction.
That earlier protest I mentioned: How long am I going to be punished?! – is a nearly impossible one to answer. Luckily, the golfer’s reduction isn’t frozen at a certain level. Because of so many determining factors – T-scores dropping off or being added, best 10 out of 20 calculation fluctuating due to current performance, etc. – the comparisons between the numbers is a changeable thing.
The player does have the right to appeal and vent (in a nice way, of course) to a higher power, in the form of your club’s Handicap Committee. They are the only entity who can make the decision to lift a reduction, though it’s unlikely unless there was an extenuating medical situation (injury, illness, surgery, or disability suffered by the player). As always, the Committee would want to contact the OGA for counsel, or to put that rare override in place.
While you’re busy being dazed and confused by this head-scratching subject, here’s a couple of helpful tips to ease the pain: 1) Look at the dates of the two lowest T-scores. Is one or more of them reaching their one year anniversary? If so, the R likely drops off on its own very soon; 2) There’s usually someone who is suffering a bigger reduction than you are – the most sizeable one I’ve seen is 10 strokes; and finally, 3) If you’re the sort who prefers to put a positive spin on things, you might refer to the R as a “Reward” for playing well.
“R” you still scratching your head? Call me! Kelly – 503-981-4653 (or email Kelly@oga.org).