By the Numbers: A Max 9 Case Study

Golf is fun.

From the first swipe at the practice range to the sticks going in the trunk of the car, golf at its heart is about having fun chasing a little white ball down a big green fairway. Like the old Club Pro used to holler out the door on our way to the tee, “If you ain’t having fun, you’re doing it wrong!”.

Year after year, the team behind the World Am is in an endless pursuit for new ways to make the World Am experience better & more enjoyable for the golfer, without taking away from the competition.  When you have to be able to implement the change for over 3,000 people on 60 golf courses, that can be a tall task. But when the USGA officially introduced the “Maximum Score” format to golf in 2019, the World Am saw this new form of stroke play as a welcome potential addition to the event. In this part of our “By the Numbers” series we will cannonball into the pros and cons of the World Am’s adoption of the “Max 9 Rule” at the 2019 Myrtle Beach World Amateur.

So, what exactly does this new format allow and is it good for the event?

The “Maximum Score” form of stroke play allows for the tournament committee to cap a player’s score for each hole either with a fixed maximum number (like 9), or with a maximum number related to par or the player’s handicap. In the above linked article, the USGA lays out two fundamental reasons for the optional form of stroke play: (1) very often traditional stroke play leads to slow pace of play, and (2) traditional stroke play may discourage golfers in general, and especially those who feel they have no chance to compete after making some big numbers in competition. Anyone who has played tournament golf has experienced both without a shadow of doubt.

Golfers certainly disagree a lot, but they can all agree on two things: the hardest shot in golf is the one right after a cold shank, and slow play is the worst.

With that in mind, one of the most universally accepted ways to increase the enjoyment of a round at the World Am and the tournament overall would be to help pace of play. The World Am Committee was excited to see how this new Max 9 Rule would positively effect pace of play in 2019, and we were not disappointed.

In 2019 scores were ready for review at HQ on average 12.5 minutes quicker over 2018, and 20 minutes quicker than 2017. This much improved time might not be entirely attributed to the introduction of the Max 9 Rule, but it is certainly low hanging fruit to presume it to be a major factor. Anyone who has ever stood on the tee waiting for someone to grind out a solid 12 knows their round could have been that much faster if they could have picked up for a 9.

Pace of Play by Year

YearAVG FLT. SCORES AT HQTime Saved/(Lost)
20163:37:38 PM
20173:43:12 PM(5min:34seconds)
20183:35:54 PM7min:18seconds
20193:23:29 PM12min:25seconds

The Max 9 Rule can definitely help make pace of play trend in a better direction, but there’s a whole lot more good news on top of that fun fact.

Throughout the years, a golfer’s love for the game has been tested by a true shipwreck of a hole. Consider this true story from the tee on Hole 11 at TPC Myrtle Beach, where a participant unloaded almost his entire trip’s supply of golf balls into the water on the road to an unfathomable 30+ strokes on one hole of the golf tournament. His week was finished, and the other 90 players on the course likely weren’t happy with the delay. Even the beverage cart and frequent trips to the beer wagon that evening couldn’t help him bounce back from that grizzly tale, you hate to see it.

Now, it just can’t be all sunshine & roses when change is implemented. Inevitably something, or someone, will test the viability of a new policy. As players across the event are saved by the ability to pick up on their journey to making double digit swings, some unique situations did arise. Naturally, the higher handicaps are utilizing this maximum score more frequently than the lower handicaps as seen in the chart below.

2019 Max 9 Utilization by Flight

With some flights having much wider ranges of handicaps, this maximum score format does potentially allow a higher handicap to stay more competitive than they previously may have been able to. Some lower handicap players would feel this is an advantage, but in contrast some argue so is being a lower handicap. 

It is important to note that starting in 2020 with the new World Handicap System, all golfer’s handicaps are built while not being able to post a score higher than net double bogey on a single hole.

The World Am did see the rare instance where a player edges out another for a finishing spot, and that higher finishing player was able to pick up on a disaster hole and walk away with just a 9, still in the hunt. But the numbers show this was already happening. 

While many agree that is worth talking about, we propose that it’s much like blaming the field goal kicker for the loss in a tight contest. Just like a football game isn’t truly decided by one play at the end. A game is comprised of four quarters and 100 plays, and a golfer’s tournament isn’t defined by one bad hole, but rather the full body of work across four rounds of golf.

Does Max 9 Affect Payouts?

In this case the numbers seem to agree with our feelings.

In 2018, prior to the Max 9 Rule existing, the World Am had 269 players in the Top 10 of their flights & 125 players in the Top 5 with an individual hole score of 9 or higher. Despite the feeling among some that these numbers would likely increase with the new rule, but in 2019 they dropped. The 2019 World Am saw both numbers improve, with 15 less players finishing in the top 10 of their flight with a 9 (formerly 9 or higher), and 14 less players finishing in the top 5 of their flight while taking a 9.

Top 5 Finishers with a 9+125109-16
Top 10 Finishers with a 9+269256-13

In short,  “Max 9 Rule” did not allow more players to finish better with a big number on the scorecard. A tangible win in the big picture goal of always improving the tournament experience.

An Unexpected Benefit

Let’s face it, the rules of golf can be exhaustingly fickle from time to time. Forgetting to write a score, accidentally breaking a rule no one knew existed, players mistakenly writing their 9-hole total in hole 18; these are all reasons for an automatic disqualification prior to rolling out the Max 9 Rule in 2019.

Another positive outcome of the implementation of Max 9 is a hall pass from these situations. Major consequences for minor infractions, 30+ golfers yearly are affected with a dreaded ‘incorrect scorecard’ or writing a 44 on hole 18. 

Starting in 2019 with the new rule players are afforded the opportunity to card a 9 as a penalty on these mistake holes, despite possibly scoring much better. Where this brutal scenario used to end a player’s week and leave a sour taste in their mouth, the World Am is allowed to step in and help under the new rules.

Wild Card Stat & Facebook Trivia

9's recorded23553459-
10+'s recorded986N/A-

Here’s a hypothetical. There were 986 instances of a 10+ being recorded in 2018. How much time would be saved by eliminating every stroke over a 9 (Congratluations to John K. for the exact guess! You’ve won three dozen TaylorMade TP5 balls!)

Let’s say each person would pick up after their seventh stroke, knowing a 9 was inevitable. Or better yet, was at 9, and saved two strokes prior to taking what would be an eventual 11.

986 occurrences * 2 strokes saved at 40 seconds each
= 78,880 seconds
or 21.91 hours saved.
or 9.6 minutes per course  per day
Who wouldn’t want to save your entire flight 10 minutes?

From incremental pace of play benefits, to preserving hundreds of dollars in golf balls, to saving the inevitable scorecard goof, the World Amateur’s implementation of the Max 9 Rule at the event has been deemed a success in year one.

As anyone would hope, our decision is knighted by the numbers. In the 2019 World Amateur customer survey, a commanding 85% of players responding request it stays in place. With that type of overwhelming support, it’s safe to say the Max 9 Rule is here to stay.


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