May 2023: Handicapping Survival Kit

By Kelly Neely, Sr. Director, Handicapping & Course Rating

I was shopping online (easy to do in sweats, promotes laziness, expensive – all the earmarks of a great hobby) for a compact yet robust emergency kit for my German Shepherd recently. These active knot-headed dogs are bound to encounter all kinds of peril in the great wide open. Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of squirrels? I’ve discovered unwittingly that The Shepherd Knows.

And while indulging in my satisfying, yet time-wasting pastime, it occurred to me that golfers surely require suitable support when navigating the quagmire of handicapping. Maybe you don’t need clotting gauze, a disposable skin stapler or a splinter-picker, but other things might come in handy.

Here are my top necessities for surviving – even thriving – in the world of handicapping. Note that the Know-It-All Twins, Alexa and Siri, do not appear anywhere on this list.


Survival Tip #1 – Post your scores

If there’s one thing about the WHS (World Handicap System) that could be classified as simple, we can drill it down to “just post your scores.” While this one is a real ear-ringer, like Mom urging “eat your vegetables,” it bears repeating just the same. Mom was always right, wasn’t she? She wasn’t being mean, she just wanted you to be healthy. Here at the OGA we want you to have a healthy handicap. You know, one that is correct. So, post your vegetables. Even the ones that taste bad without cheese sauce.


Survival Tip #2 – If You Must, Adjust

Sometimes your game is spot on and doesn’t throw you any curves. Things are going along swimmingly (the sports references are out in full force today). Aaaand, other times not so much. You might have a few burdensome blow-up holes. Or you’re called away for what had better be a good reason and can’t finish your round. Once you have a handicap to maintain, you’ve got to get scores in, even when circumstances are less than ideal. Just proceed with the Three Hole Score Adjustments of Rule 3 (please memorize, you might be tested).

1. Net Double Bogey – Which we refer to lovingly as ‘Double Bogey Plus’ because it sounds less head-scratchy. Take par, plus two for the bogey, plus any handicap strokes you were allowed on that hole. This gives you a maximum per hole to post when you go careening helplessly over that number.

2. Par Plus any Handicap Strokes Allowed – Use this when you don’t start a hole. You don’t take one stroke, not even a duck-hooked drive. But if you do, do this: 

3. Most Likely Score – Alas, you were hopeful but weary, maybe even chasing daylight, when you pulled that quacker on the 17th tee. You’re out, but not before you post what you most likely would have shot on that hole based on your own humbling game: the number of strokes taken, plus the number of strokes it would take you to finish (not exceeding Net Double Bogey, that is).


Survival Tip #3 – Post Hole-by-Hole

Let’s face it. Many of us who originally balked that posting hole-by-hole would take forever and be annoying have fully embraced this feature of the WHS. Why? Because we’re already overtaxing our noggins trying to finesse our way around the golf course. Our remaining braincells are better served by deciding what type of adult beverage to have at the end of the round instead of doing math. Just choose ‘Hole-By-Hole’ and punch in that excruciating 12 you endured on Hole 4. Watch the system take pity on you by adjusting it to an 8.


Survival Tip #4 – Use the GHIN Mobile App

Using the free GHIN mobile app literally puts Survival Tip #3 in your back pocket. But there are more good reasons to use it. The conversion of your Handicap Index to a Course Handicap by way of the Handicap Calculator gives you (and playing partners) proper strokes for the round. This allows you to possibly outflank your uber-competitive brother who has been underestimating you since you were five. Playing a little team game? Different tees / course ratings in play? The mobile app handles all of that easily. And check out a cool new enhancement by tapping on “Play with GPS / Games”. This gives the user the ability to keep track of gross or net match play and score the group (GPS is an effective but optional add-on).


Survival Tip #5 – Understand What a Score Differential Is

Earlier this week I was explaining the calculation of a Handicap Index to an OGA member. This brought my career total for this question to approximately 289,652. I asked him if he knew what a Score Differential was. First, the sound of crickets ensued, but then he said, “Well, sort of.” Reasonable response. But understanding what a Score Differential is will bless you with a Light Bulb Moment, and we need more of those in handicapping. In a nutshell, a score of 80 on a difficult course may be a better performance than a 77 on an easier one, and it is the Score Differential that allows this to be captured. Once you have 20 scores in your record, your eight lowest Score Differentials – not necessarily your lowest scores – are averaged. That’s your Handicap Index. Bingo! Powered through that with nary a formula in sight. 


Survival Tip #6 – Know Your Number(s)

Yep, there are a few of them:

- Handicap Index – Your ‘raw’ number, representative of your best demonstrated ability, and taken to one decimal place. But you don’t play with it. You just agonize over it.

- Low Handicap Index – Note that the WHS now tracks your lowest Handicap Index over the last year and displays it in all its glory. Whether it’s a reminder of better days or a thorn in your side, don’t ignore it or stray too far from it. Your Low HI serves as a reference point for subsequent Indexes.

- Course Handicap – Your Handicap Index converted to the Slope Rating of tees you’re going to play and reflected as a whole number. You need more strokes on a harder course, even more on a super hard course. Easy course, fewer strokes. No whining.

- Playing Handicap – This is your Course Handicap adjusted for a condition of the competition set by the Committee in charge. This is a fancy way of warning you that they’ve shaved off strokes. But it’s not because they’re grumpy (no more than usual, anyway). It’s usually due to a format of play that calls for the competitors receiving less than 100% of Course Handicap (called an Allowance), or for an adjustment for two different pars in play (called Rule 6.2b).


Survival Tip #7 – Maintain a Sense of Humor

This one deserves the top spot but if I had put it there you wouldn’t have continued reading and columnists hate that. Yes, having a sense of humor is paramount – not only with most things, but surely with golf and its various and sundry (complex) accouterments. And especially with handicapping – which can be an intricate maze of algorithms with grievances sprinkled in. This might sound trite, but don’t worry about your handicap. Worry about your game. Correction – don’t even worry about your game. Enjoy the glorious golf course and being outside with your friends. As for handicapping, let the WHS do what it’s designed (very well) to do. And Just. Play. On.