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Pope Of Slope

WHAT'S YOUR ANTI-HANDICAP?

WHY YOUR HANDICAP WILL CHANGE THIS YEAR

The good news is it will be simpler to adjust your score for posting. The bad news is your index might go up, and maybe that's not so bad

BY GUY YOCOM
GOLF DIGEST

Golf is not supposed to be fair, but the handicapping system is. With that in mind, the U.S. Golf Association has changed the Equitable Stroke Control (ESC) procedure for 1993. ESC is the downward adjustment of unusually high scores on individual holes, which, if included in the 18-hole score, would be abnormally high in relation to thc player's general ability. Perhaps you know the drill – you shoot a gross score of 87 but, after reducing the 10 you took on the par-4 ninth hole to the maximum double bogey 6 that your 14-handicap allows, you end up posting an 83 on the handicap computer.

The problem is, the drill proved too complicated for many amateurs. So the USGA instituted the following change: From now on, the maximum high score you can post on a hole for handicap purposes will not depend on the hole's par, as in the past. Instead, you will be assigned a maximum number that, based on your course handicap, you can make on any hole, regardless of its par.

For instance, if your course handicap is 14, the highest number you can record on any hole when you adjust your score at the end of the round for handicap purposes is 7 (see table). It doesn't matter if it's a par 3 or a par 5, the number "7" is the only one you need to remember when you scan your scorecard at the end of the round. If you have a score of 8 or higher on your scorecard, you reduce it to 7, re-total your score and enter the adjusted total into the computer.

Old ESC

 

New ESC

Course
Handicap 

  Maximum individual
hole score

 

Course
Handicap

Maximum score
posted on any hole

0 or less

could not make more
than bogey on any hole

 

9 or less

6

1 through 18

Number of double
bogeys equal to handicap

 

10 through 19

  7

19 through 36 

  Triple bogey on number
of holes handicap exceeds 18

 

20 through 29

  8

37 through 54 

Quadruple bogey on
number of holes handicap
exceeds 36

 

30 through 39

  9

 

 

 

40 through 49 

  10

 

 

 

50 and above 

  11

How does this differ from the old method? In the past, players with handicaps of 1 to 18 could not post a score higher than a double bogey on any hole. If your handicap was higher than 18, you were entitled to as many triple bogeys as your handicap exceeded 18. A 25-handicapper, for instance, could post seven triple bogeys. Once a handicap exceeded 36, you were allowed as many quadruple bogeys as your handicap exceeded 36.

"After 19 years of the old ESC procedure, fewer than 25 percent of golfers nationwide were using it accurately," says Dean Knuth, the USGA's director of handicapping. "Many did not understand it. Last year we sent out two million copies of the 'Uncle Snoopy' booklet explaining ESC, and even then the situation didn't get any better. Something had to give."

While poor compliance with the old ESC was the primary reason for the change, thc old system also was unfair to golfers with high handicaps. Especially troubling, says Knuth, were golfers with handicaps exceeding 35. "Generally these are short hitters," he says. "On long par 4s and par 5s, it takes them several strokes just to reach the green. A score of 10 or higher is normal for them. Under the old ESC, the most they could take on these holes was an 8 or 9. When this happens several times a round, what you have are handicaps that don't reflect their true ability."

Another concern was that the old ESC caused unfairly low handicaps just below the "break points." Players with handicaps of 16 to 18 made their a share of triple bogeys, but had to reduce them to double bogeys. A 20-handicapper, meanwhile, was entitled to two triple-bogeys that in the opinion of Knuth caused a disparity in handicaps. Break points still exist with thc new ESC – they would with any procedure – but Knuth believes the incidence of handicap disparity will be less from now on due to where the break points fall.

The new way to adjust scores was the brainchild of Jeanne Myers of Detroit, who is the new chair of the USGA Women's Handicap Procedure Committee (WHPC). Five years ago the WHPC investigated the problem with ESC as it applied to high-handicap women and recommended that the USGA test several new ESC procedures on existing scores from across the nation. In 1991 Myers' concept surfaced as the best solution. The handicap research team experimented with more than 20,000 scores in three different tests and found, to its relief, that Myers' procedure had a minimal effect on handicaps.

"On average, adjusted 18-hole scores will be reduced .9 of a stroke," says Knuth. "Still, handicaps will go up an average of . 3 of a stroke because the new ESC will apply more frequently to the worst 10 scores of your last 20, which aren't used in computing your handicap. High handicappers will go up a little more than an average of .3 of a stroke, low handicappers a little bit less than that."

Then isn't the new ESC system weighted in favor of high handicappers? Knuth says no. "There is a 'bonus for excellence' built into the handicapping system that rewards those with low handicaps," he says. "Even with the new ESC procedure, that bonus is still there."

Knuth admits he's received some "hate mail" from individuals who are totally against the change to the new ESC. "The letters can be classified into three categories," he says. The objections to the new procedure are as follows:

1. Won't playing time increase? Knuth says no. "ESC: doesn't tell a player when to quit hitting a ball," he says. "Pace of play has to do with being ready to play when it's your turn, playing the stroke itself quickly and moving briskly between shots. There are a lot of 30-handicappers who can play in three hours or less.
"A player can – and should – pick up when he is out of the hole and jot down the score he most likely would have made. It's important to know that you don't automatically jot down your maximum number when you pick up a hole, except when the most likely score exceeds your maximum number."

2. Since even low handicappers now can score a 6 on a par 3, won't this be a boon for sandbaggers? "No," says Knuth, flatly. "Par 3s arc where golfers receive the fewest number of handicap strokes, where 99 percent of players are likely to try their hardest to score well. Furthermore, Section 5-2 of thc USGA Handicap System automatically reduces the handicap of the remaining 1 percent of the players who consistently score better in competition than in informal play."

3. "How was compliance a problem with the old ESC? Everyone at our club understood it." "Handicap committees nationwide have done an excellent job making people understand the system in general, but ESC was an ongoing problem," says Knuth. "The fact is, those who understood it were an anomaly. The new ESC is much simpler. In general, compliance just didn't happen. Nineteen years from now, we would expect much greater compliance with less struggle."
Golf has always been a game of numbers, sometimes too many to keep track of. With thc new ESC procedure, there will be fewer to consider the next time you play.

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