What About Handicaps?
By Johnny Farrell, “The Weekend Golfer”, 1952
(Johnny Farrell was an American professional golfer who won the 1928 U S Open by beating Bobby Jones in a 36-hole play-off)
It is strange but true that the handicap system in use throughout Golf Clubs—and wherever golfers forgather—is based on medal play, whereas the large majority of week-enders make their bets on match play.
Why is your handicap based on the average of your five or ten lowest scores when, you rarely play against someone on the basis of total strokes ? It's my belief that golfers should adopt an alternative handicap system—one that they could alternate with the present-day one—and before they play a game make a choice between the two.
It would be a handicapping system for use in match play and would go a long way towards levelling up the more-than-occasional mismatches that I've seen at week-ends.
Let me indicate what I think is a mismatch. My two players are Tom and Jerry, and they are as friendly on and off the course as two gremlins. One of the reasons they arc such friends is the great difference in their characters. Tom is an explosive chap, given to fly off the handle ; but when he really puts his mind to a task he does it extremely well. This is true of his golf game. When Tom is concentrating on his game he is as good a shotmaker as the club boasts. It's not unusual for Tom to pick up several birdies in a round and, from the forward tee, an eagle. But Tom can be a very erratic golfer. He is liable to make a mistake on a hole and keep on making mistakes. And when the hole is done, he doesn't forget it immediately but broods about it on the next tee. Once, Tom took eight shots in bunker and then four-putted. His handicap is fifteen.
His friend Jerry, on the other hand, is an even-tempered, mild-mannered fellow who plays golf pretty much as he lives—always down the middle and never sensational. Jerry is very predictable on the course. He plays to take one over bogey on all but the short holes. A three-to-get-on and two putts golfer. On the par 3 holes he generally gets his par. As you've probably figured, he gets around the course, par 70, in about eighty-five shots. His handicap is fifteen. Tom, fifteen; Jerry, fifteen. Let's play around with them and see how their half-crown side-bet comes out. According to the Handicap Committee they should come out even. At worst, one of them will lose a half-crown by not too big a margin.
As you can see from their card, Tom played the first three holes in even figures, and the fourth in one over. Jerry took one over on each of the first and a six on the par 4 fourth.
On the fifth tee, Tom, who is now four up on Jerry, hooked his first drive into the deep woods and skied the next ball off to the right into the jungle grass. Jerry hit down the middle, as usual, about one hundred and seventy yards from the tee.
Tom's shot from the rough was pulled rather violently into a deep, thick-lipped trap, some eighty yards from the green. Jerry, sympathizing with his friend, surprised himself by cracking a brassie two hundred yards and just short of the green. Then he waited for Tom who blasted—literally and orally —out of the trap in three. His eighth shot was good. It hit the green and bit—coming to a stop three feet away. Jerry's chip, his third shot on the hole, came within six feet of the hole. He missed his four but got a five. He conceded Tom a nine, but Tom putted—missed—and carded a ten.
On the par 3 sixth, Jerry made his—but Tom was still playing the terrible fifth and took a five. He came back, however, to play his regular game and even showed one under par for the next three holes. Jerry was two over, his regular game. Each man had a medal for the nine holes of forty-two.
The return half went along normally for Jerry, the steady golfer, but Tom got a birdie and two bogeys, and then took a total of twenty shots on the next three holes. He went one over on the sixteenth and had bogeys on the last two for a medal of forty-three. Jerry's two bogeys and seven holes one over gave him a forty-three. They each carded an eighty-five for the round—but guess what ? Tom won the match three ways—four up on the outward half, one up coming back, five up all told. .
These fellows are good friends and play together every week-end, but until Jerry manages to get strokes from Tom he stands as good a chance of beating Ben Hogan. Can anything be done, and if it were done, wouldn't Tom enjoy a closer match with his friend as much as Jerry ?
I think so, and this is what I suggest : Since Tom and Jerry are playing match, why not handicap them for that rather than for medal ? In any ten rounds Jerry will average eighty-five shots and 4 bogeys per round. His handicap should be fourteen. Tom, as shown, will also average eighty-five shots, although he may do it with seventy-nine's and ninety-one's. He, however, will average eleven bogeys per round (considering birdies to be worth pars in this system). Tom’s handicap would be seven.
Under this system of Match Play Handicap, Tom would give Jerry three-quarters of the difference, or five shots. With Jerry getting three strokes in the first half and two in the second, he is still down on the first nine, probably one down, but he picks one up coming home and squares the match. Thus no money changes hands and—week in, week out—the result will continue to be pretty level. Their matches are going to be a lot more exciting for both men from now on.
This handicapping system will not affect men. who actually do play a steady game of golf—they will still be even. What it does do is equalize matters for the steady golfer who is matched against the rather spectacular in-and-outer.
Getting involved in the wrong match can so upset a player mentally that it is impossible for him to swing smoothly.
I bring this thought to you in the hope you will enjoy your golf more around the club since most players enjoy a bet on the game.
When you are picking a partner in match play, select the player like Tom with the 10-12 bogeys in his score of eighty-five.