writing on scorecard

Your Handicap, Your Average, And Your Anti-Cap

We all want to play to our handicap in competitions and that is always a goal golfers have in handicap events, but what does this really mean and how hard is it to actually do this?  Our World Am staff has discussed in person, over the phone and in past articles how a handicap is based on a player’s potential to play their best rather than how they play on average. Those of us who are familiar with the handicap system realize that the USGA states that we should only play to our handicap about once every five or six times we play.  If you are playing in a multi-round tournament it should be more difficult to play, to or better than your index in consecutive rounds.  The reason it should be extremely difficult to play to your handicap is simply based on the way the handicap is calculated.


When your handicap index is calculated only the best ten of your last twenty differentials are used to determine your index at the time your revision comes out.  In addition to only using the best half of your scores, an additional percentage is then taken away from that number. So, not only is your handicap not an average of your scores, but it is a number that is actually lower than an average of your best scores.People seem to completely whiff on the idea that playing to their handicap on a given day is very hard to do and is an accomplishment even in a single round.

As a staff we always find ourselves having to talk to players about the difference between their handicap index and their average score as players like to blend the two numbers together.  They also like to point to their highest rounds shot in events and make reference to that round rather than focusing on the low rounds they have shot.

What if we were to look in further detail at a players scoring history and take the worst 10 of their last twenty scores rather than their best 10?  Players like to reference these rounds all the time so let’s actually look at what these bad scores would look like as a handicap index and lets refer to it as an anti-cap.  We can then look at what it would be like to compare our handicap index to both our average score and our worst scores.

Just below is a screenshot of a random player’s handicap that uses GHIN for their handicap service.  You will see how all ten of the lowest differentials (shown as Diff.) have a star showing that the score was used to calculate the 14.5 index.  To get to this number just add the ten differentials up divide by ten (for the 10 scores) and then take 4% percent away from the number to determine the actual handicap index.  When the number comes out to 14.57 you do not round you just drop the 7 for handicap purposes.
USGA Handicap Index Information

Anticap GHIN
Now if we look at just a general average for the player we would have to take all twenty scores divide by twenty which would give us 17.8. Finally let’s look at how this golfer plays when having bad days to figure out their anti-cap.  Take the players worst ten differentials, add them up then divide by ten and take 4% away to get the anti-cap of 19.6.

As we look this player’s handicap, their average, and their anti-cap we can see just how different the three numbers are from one another.  As we see the discrepancy between the numbers we should realize comparing any of the three numbers to one another may be a bad idea as they are always going to be far apart even for the most consistent golfer.Five Handicap

If this player were to play in World Am they would have to play to their 12.3 lowest handicap index in the last 12 months.  They would have a 14.5 current handicap index with an average differential of 17.8 and their anti-cap would be 19.6.  If this player is able to play better than a 12.3 for three days in a row in a tournament environment, that should be considered pretty wild to say the least and simply should not happen.

Now for the fun part. Go out there and find your lowest handicap in the last 12 months, your current handicap index, your average differential, and your anti-cap.  Share these numbers with us and everyone else on our Facebook page so that we can see the different numbers from a variety of players.  Above is just one random example, but seeing a variety of examples from various handicaps would be fun to see.

Phil Mickelson Low 12

Why We Use Your Low 12 Handicap Index

One of the biggest questions we deal with as a staff leading up to an event is "why do you use a participant’s lowest indexHandicap Index History 1 in the last 12 months (otherwise known as a Low 12) rather than their current handicap index?"  Most participants feel that their current handicap index is a better representation of how they are playing coming into a tournament as opposed to their Low 12.  This statement may be true, but does this number represent how they can perform when they truly play their best?  Keep in mind that the whole concept of using a handicap index in the first place is to get a number that represents how a player plays at their best.  There are a variety of reasons why a current handicap index may not be an accurate representation of a golfer’s true playing potential.


Take the golfer who is truly blessed by being able to play golf 4 to 5 times a week.  This particular player will play 20 rounds of golf in a 4 or 5 week period and all of the scores outside of this short time period will no longer be reflected in their current index.  Let’s agree that we all go through peaks and valleys when playing and both the good and the bad can come and go as quickly as flipping a light switch.  If a player that plays this often plays poorly for a few weeks leading up to an event, then that could dramatically change their current index.  In this scenario, it would be fair to say that the current number does not reflect how this player plays when he or she plays their best golf.


Another example of this would be the golfer who gets injured in some way, shape or form and is unable to play golf at all for say a 6 to 8 week period.  This golfer, without any practice at all during that time period, is likely to see their skills on the course decline.  When this player comes back from the injury they certainly won’t be playing their best golf.  Throughout this process they are going to post some bad rounds and their handicap will go up.  The end result of this is going to be an inaccurate handicap index because the number will not truly measure this player’s ability to play at their best.


Low 12That's just two examples of how a current index can become inaccurate without the player ever doing anything intentionally to manipulate their index.  Under these types of scenarios, an honest player may show up at an event and play really well, thus beating this inaccurate current index.  They may be adjusted, or even in some cases disqualified for not doing anything wrong because the number they provided does not properly measure their true playing potential.  When it comes time to review the validity of a player’s handicap index, it won’t matter whether or not their index became inaccurate by being manipulated or in an honest manner. Either way, the number is inaccurate.


Many players look at the handicap rules that are in place as the staff going overboard to try and catch the few players that are referred to as "sandbaggers". But that is only a small part of why this rule is in place.  The Low 12 rule was established to help players, not restrict them.  Focusing on making sure we get an accurate number from an honest player is much more important than the idea of catching a player manipulating the system.  The worst conversation to have is one with a player who has an inaccurate index for doing absolutely nothing wrong to make the number inaccurate.  The problem is that at the end of the day, once an index is determined to be inaccurate, the reason for it becomes irrelevant. It is simply a must to protect the players in the field that do have accurate indexes.


The most important thing for our staff to focus on when obtaining a player’s handicap index is to try to get an index for every player in the tournament that represents how they play when playing at their best.  An index from a player who
has been playing poorly or may have been restricted due to injury does not do that.  Going back for 5 or 10 years in a returning player's profile and looking at their tournament rounds they have had in past years at the event doesn’t do that either.  By taking a player’s Low 12, we give ourselves a large enough window to accurately review the player without going back too far.  The Low 12 is the best tool we have available to find a player’s current potential. This helps us to put everyone in the event on as equal of a playing field as possible.

jordan spieth rules

Changes to the Rules of Golf

It'That book is the real hazard!' doesn’t matter who you are, or how long you have played the game, knowing all of the rules out on the golf course seems to be a very rare thing.  I have played the game both competitively and for fun all my life yet there always seems to be a ruling that comes up on the course to which I simply do not have the answer.  There are also cases where a rule will come up and I feel that I am almost certain I know the answer because it has happened to me in the past, but without fail that rule has been changed or amended in some way, shape, or form and I am wrong once again.  We have seen changes to the rules in the past and we are going to see more rule changes in the future.

Golfers all have different opinions about the changes to the rules.  Some think the rules should simply stay the same and not be modified as this only makes it harder for us to keep up.  Others think as issues arise the rules should be changed more frequently than they are currently.  Regardless of which side of this argument you land on we should all be able to agree on one thing, once you learn and understand the rule it should not take a rocket scientist to determine what the ruling is after an event occurs.

A perfect example is what happened to Dustin Johnson at this year’s US Open.  This incident was the definition of a nightmare rules controversy.  In our office after we all saw the incident, watched replays of what happened, and read up on what ruling was actually made we discussed it just like the rest of the golfing world.  After about 2 minutes into the conversation it was clear that that we had different opinions on what ruling should or should not have been made.   None of us are rules experts by any means, but once we all had a clear understanding of this particular rule we should not have to be arguing over what should have happened as the rule should simply be easier to understand.

dj-us-openAs we can see this particular ruling caused such uproar that the USGA and the R&A have basically stated that they will be changing this rule in all of the events they hold beginning in 2017.  If a player causes a ball to move accidentally while on the green they will not be issued a penalty.  They have declared that this will be a local rule that gives committees the option of whether or not to make the change, but let’s agree that almost every committee is going to institute the change.

This is just the most recent of changes that is going to be made to the rules, but there are many more that have taken place throughout the sport's history.  Prior to this upcoming change we saw the outlawing of anchoring your putter.  This rule change obviously got a variety of different opinions from golfers.  Some say it makes the game more difficult and that could hurt our growth of the game initiatives.  Others say that anchoring the putter should be considered flat out cheating as it just makes putting easier, giving some an advantage over others and if left in place, the short putter may completely disappear from the game.

The two rules mentioned above I feel comfortable saying that I am a big fan of seeing changed.  I look at other rule changes and wonder "why did we not stick with that change" or "why would we take that out of the game"?  We have seen rules that have been changed that have stuck with and others that have changed and then changed back.  Some of these rules were great additions while others were taken away for what seems like no reason at all.

The continuous putting rule was one that was changed and changed back rather quickly.  In 1966, the USGA added a local rule that stated once you were on the green, marked your ball and then placed it back on the green for your turn you were required to finish putting the ball out until it was holed without being able to remark the ball.  The only exception was that if you were in someone’s line it was up to the person whose line you were in to determine if they wanted you to remark your ball.  If that player wanted you to finish regardless of standing in their line for whatever reason you had to finish out.  The idea behind the rule was that it would speed up play.  In 1968 the rule was made an actual rule of golf and then in 1970 was rescinded from the rules altogether.  This rule was for stroke play only, but is one that I think was a great rule if for nothing else to speed up the pace of play which we can all agree is a major problem in golf.

tin-cup-ball-dropAnother rule that was taken out of the game was the way that you had to drop the ball.  You used to have to have to hold the ball over your shoulder to drop it so you could not look at where you were dropping the ball.  I never actually got to do this as I am too young being the rule was taken out of the game in 1984, but I like the concept behind the rule.  The reason that I liked the rule was that it represented the integrity that lies within the history of the game.

Whether or not we think the rules should be modified, or stay the same, we all have different opinions about the rules.  We discuss rules we don’t like in our golfing groups all the time and how certain rules could be applied or stated differently to make the game easier to understand.  As complicated as the rules are these types of discussions will always take place and the rules will constantly be modified as the game continues to evolve.  If you were given the option to add, change, or even omit a rule what change would you make?

Join the conversation on our Facebook Page and share with us what changes you would make to the Rules of Golf.

golf cartoon

Par and Your Handicap

 One of the most recognizable golf terms that we as golfers use both on and off the course is par. Par is the number of shots that most of us golfers who are not playing on tour somewhere try to make every time that we step on a tee box of a given hole.  Par is an unrealistic target score that is listed for us on every scorecard at every golf course we ever play.  In the back of our minds we all know that we are not going to shoot par for an entire round of golf, but that certainly doesn’t stop us from trying to make par on every hole that we play.  We know when we play a hole correctly and we don’t make any mistakes, par is the number that we'll be recording on our scorecards.


One of the many draws to the game of golf is that it brings out a competitive spirit that lies deep within us all.  We love competition whether it's competing against one another, or simply watching others compete.  In any form of competition, some of us will experience the feeling of victory while others will drown in the agony of defeat.  We all love that feeling we get when we win, but that gut wrenching feeling we get when we lose also plays a big role in why we love competition.  When we step on the golf course, we are able to experience both of these feelings by using what we call the handicap system.

The handicap system allows us to simply plug our scores into a computer each time that we play a round of golf and then the computer magically spits out a number that allows us to measure our ability against the ability of other golfers.  This number is referred to as a "Handicap Index". A Handicap Index can be used to compete against our friends or in a variety of tournaments.  The ultimate goal of the system is to put everyone on an equal playing field prior to starting a round of golf.

The way the system works is that once we complete our round we subtract our handicap from our score to get a new score.  Whoever has the lowest score after we subtract each player’s handicap from their actual score is the winner.  This gives everyone the opportunity to win on a given day and at the same time rewards the player who actually had their best day on the golf course.

Almost all of us are aware of the handicap system and use it to compete against one another on courses all across the world.  The only problem with this system is that it is very common that the golfers using it have no idea how their handicap is actually calculated.  This is okay as the number works for competition purposes regardless of whether or not we understand where it comes from, but we always seem to have questions about the accuracy of the handicap of other golfers with whom we are competing against.

As golfers begin to question the validity of a handicap, they almost all do the same thing to determine whether the handicap is inaccurate.  They all look at what par was for the course and what the player in question did in relation to par.  A very common misconception about the handicap system is that a handicap is a number designed to have you shoot par for the day.  This statement is believed by a vast majority of golfers and it could not be any further from the truth about how the system works.

blackmoor_golf_club1Golf courses are rated using a variety of different variables and then two different numbers are used based on these ratings to help us establish our handicaps.  The first number is referred to as a “Course Rating” and is a rating that indicates the difficulty of a golf course for a golfer who can play a course at a handicap of zero when playing their best.  The second number is referred to as the “Slope Rating” and is a number that measures the difficulty of a course for a golfer who plays to about a 20 handicap when they play their best.  These two ratings are used together in a mathematical equation to come up with a golfer’s handicap.

If you subtract the course rating of the tees you play from your actual score, multiply that number by the standard slope rating of 113, and then divide that by the actual slope rating of the tees you have played from you will be left with a "differential". The differential shows us what we played to for that day.  The way we arrive at our handicap index is by taking the best ten of our last twenty differentials and getting an average of these ten numbers.  We then take an additional four percent away from that number. This allows us to come up with a number that reflects how we play when we play golf at our best.

It is important to note that a handicap index is not an average of how we play, but is a number that represents how we can play when we play at our best.  Playing to our handicap on a given day is a challenge.  We should only be able to play to our handicap about one out of every five or six times we play.

cheater-cartoonThe vast majority of golfers that huddle around to question someone’s handicap after a round is played do not look at any of the information used to actually come up with the number.  They think that if par for the day is 72 (which it almost always is) and the person that they are looking at is a 10 handicap they would need to shoot 82 to have played to their handicap.  Well, this is incorrect. Some courses are obviously harder than others and we all play different sets of tees that vary drastically in difficulty even though par remains the same for all of them.  If a person plays from a senior tee box at roughly 5800 yards and shoots 82 and then the next day on the same golf course shoots 82 from the back tee box at 7200 yards, are those rounds are equal?  Obviously, they are not even close to the same rounds of golf. We can all agree that playing the same golf course from 1,400 extra yards is harder no matter who we ask.

We have used par as a measuring device on the course for so long that us golfers struggle to grasp the concept that it's not used in our handicap system.  I am not sure why we can’t all figure this out, or why most of us believe that par is our target score, but it's a terrible way to try to judge whether a handicap is an accurate reflection of someone’s playing ability.  Why are we so eager to use par as a target score when at no point do we use it to come up with our handicap?  Using par as a measuring stick on the golf course is something that golfers have always done and feel comfortable doing regardless of the circumstances.

Using par to judge the accuracy of a handicap is something that will never work.  It will never work because while par and handicap are both be golf terms, they have absolutely nothing to do with one another.  Course and slope ratings are used to determine how we come up with our handicaps and these numbers must also be used to measure our success and failures after we play.  Using par as a target score for handicaps will leave you with an incorrect opinion of both the person who keeps that handicap as well as the entire handicap system in general.

As we play in the future and examine our handicap, or the handicap of others, it is important to note that the target score that needs to be shot to have played to our handicap is the course rating of tee box from which you are playing.  The reason the course rating is used as the target score instead of par is very simple.  We use the course rating instead of par because that is what the handicap system is designed to do.  We will always feel comfortable using the term par both on the course and when telling stories, but as we discuss, question, or examine handicaps, let’s just leave golf’s most recognizable term out of the conversation where it simply does not belong.

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