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Odds of Shooting an Exceptional Score
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Pebble Beach Settles the Score
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BUSTED!
One tournament does a great job of chatching sandbaggers

The DIGEST UP AND IN

IN AUGUST, NEARLY 3,100 GOLFERS — FORMER All-Star pitcher Roger Clemens included — paid $550 each to compete in the World Amateur Handicap Championship in Myrtle Beach. Because this multi-round, stroke-play event uses USGA Handicap Indexes (converted into course handicaps) to determine the winner, you can imagine the potential for cheating. Tournament organizers did their best to catch players who submitted high Indexes yet shot really low scores (known as “sandbagging”). In the end, 30 golfers were disqualified for cheating. Golf Digest Contributing Editor Dean Knuth, former senior director of the USGA Handicap department, explains how tournament officials used statistics and probability to keep the event fair. Here are four examples (names were changed to protect the guilty):


J.D.’s scores were a long shot

INCIDENT: J.D. entered with a Handicap Index of 24.4. He was given a course handicap of 25 for round one and shot 90 for a net 65. Playing on a different course in round two, he shot 88 for a net 61. Officials reduced his course handicap, and he shot 79 for a net 58.

ODDS: In round one, his odds where 40-to-1 he would shoot 90; 130-to-1 he would shoot an 88 in round two; and 1,650-to-1 for his gross 79 in round three.

BUSTED: J.D. was disqualified because his combined odds for shooting those three scores were more than 1,000,000-to-1.

Davey follows career round with two more

INCIDENT: Davey shot an 83 in round one (despite having a course handicap of 23). He followed that with rounds of 87 and 89.

ODDS: For his first-round 83, the odds were 27,000-to-1. His handicap was reduced to a 17 for round two, and he still shot better than expected. His handicap was then reduced to 16, but the odds of shooting 89 were 21-to-1.

BUSTED: The career round to start the event raised suspicion. But the next two long-shot rounds got Davey disqualified.

TOP 8 (Actual) SANDBAGGER EXCUSES
1
"New clubs."
2
"Lucky bounces."
3
"I never play this well."
4
"This course is shorter than my home course."
5
"I've been practicing a lot."
6
"A pro gave me a great lesson."
7
"Guess I've recovered from my surgery."
8
"I played safe here. I go for broke at home."

Slim gets disqualified by a narrow margin

INCIDENT: Slim entered with a Handicap Index of 8.8 and had a course handicap of 11 for the first round, when he shot 78. He was a 10 handicapper for the second round and shot 80. In round three, he shot 78 again.

ODDS: Slim’s odds were 121-to-1 for his first-round 78 and 21-to-1 for the 80 in round two and 78 in round three.

BUSTED: He almost got away with it. He played like a 5.0 index, which is possible for a round, event two, but not three. He took the news of his disqualification well.

Sonny gets the jitters, shoots big numbers

INCIDENT: Sonny signed up for the tournament with a Handicap Index of 4.0. He then shot rounds of 106, 96, 93, and 88.

ODDS: Not calculable.

BUSTED: Sonny played more like a 24-handicapper, so perhaps the 4 on his entry form was a typo? Apparently not. When officials asked him about his handicap and how he could have shot such high scores, Sonny said he was “nervous.” Officials allowed him to play all four qualifying rounds since the only person he was cheating was himself.

KNOW IT
Odds of shooting a score lower than your course handicap? 1-in-5. By three strokes? 1-in 20. By eight strokes? 1-in-1,138.

From Golf Digest December 2010, page 58

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