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Pope Of Slope

The 10 Most-Wanted SANDBAGGERS

Golf Digest, April, 1985, pages 105-106

The USGA's public enemies list, plus tips on how to spot a handicap cheater
by Ross Goodner

The U.S. Golf Association's crusade against sandbaggers has moved into a new and critical stage. Where once the USGA's weapons were no more powerful than a disapproving look, today's modern computer technology can identify the individual culprits and expose them to public scrutiny. The result: a lineup of public enemies that would make the FBI proud.

The list, which consists of 170 names, is made up of golfers whose scores in tournament competition are substantially--often ridiculously--lower than their scores in regular play. Exposure of sandbaggers will enable local associations to deal with them and, the USGA believes, will be a significant step toward giving everyone a correct handicap. Steps are already being taken by some states (see "It's Open Season on Sandbaggers," Golf Digest, May 1984). For example, Colorado assigns points to tournament winners, and lowers the handicaps of those who amass too great a total. Idaho lowers the handicap of anyone who averages four or more strokes below his handicap in tournaments. California takes a player's lowest handicap in the last 12 months and uses that in association events.

To help everyone get an accurate handicap--and to unmask sandbaggers in the process--the USGA has launched two major endeavors:

*The Slope System. An attempt to solve the "portability problem" by adjusting a golfer's home-course handicap to any other course he plays. A course-handicap table will be posted at each club, and the visiting golfer will consult it to see if he receives a greater or lesser number of strokes, depending on the difficulty of the course. To make Slope work, the nation's state and regional golf associations are rerating all their courses under a strict USGA System that takes into account several key playability factors. Previously, courses were rated chiefly according to length. Sixteen associations have rated their courses so far--up from six a year ago--and USGA handicapping director Dean Knuth estimates 80 percent of the nation's courses will be rated by the end of 1986.

*The Golf Handicap an Information Network (GHIN). This provides, among other things, what is being called the "electronic option," which means a club would own and operate its own computer, linked to a host computer at USGA headquarters. This would provide a club with current handicap information on a visiting player in a matter of minutes.

Here's the USGA's "most wanted" list, giving the golfer's handicap, average tournament score and low tournament score. We attempted to contact these golfers to get their explanations for the scoring discrepancy. The names were changed to protect the guilty.

No. 1--Jack Skats. Handicap is listed at 7, average tournament score, 71; low tournament score, 69. Difference between average score and average tournament score: six strokes. He could not be reached for comment.

No. 2--Pete the Press. Handicap is 23; average tournament score, 79; low tournament score, 78. Difference between average score and average tournament score: 14 strokes. His comment: "I'm not much of a golfer. I just play a couple of times a year."

No. 3--C.O.D. Sam. Handicap is 17; average tournament score, 77; low tournament score, 76. Difference between average score and average tournament score: 10 strokes. He could not be reached for comment.

No. 4--Two-a-side Bill. Handicap is 12; average tournament score, 75; low tournament score, 75. Difference between average score and average tournament score: seven strokes. His comment: "I prefer competition to casual play because it makes me play better. I think handicaps should be computed solely on tournament scores, because that's when golfers play their normal games."

No. 5--Vegas Vinnie. Handicap is 15; average tournament score, 77; low tournament score, 77. Difference between average score and average tournament score: eight strokes. Hi comment: "I concentrate more in competition."

No. 6--Cash-and-Carry Kate. Handicap is 7; average tournament score, 73; low tournament score, 72. Difference between average score and average tournament score: four strokes. Her comment: "In competition I tend to play against people instead of the course. Also, in a casual round with friends I'll practice a lot of shots I would never attempt in competition."

No. 7--Fair-advantage Phil. Handicap is 30; average tournament score, 87; low tournament score, 86. Difference between average score and average tournament score: 13 strokes. His comment: "I play better because I concentrate better, and I play harder."

No. 8--Eddie the Edge. Handicap is 17; average tournament score, 81; low tournament score, 71. Difference between average score and average tournament score: six strokes. He could not be reached for comment.

No. 9--Freddie the Foot-mashie. Handicap is 31; average tournament score, 91; low tournament score, 87. Difference between average score and average tournament score: 10 strokes. His comment: "The reason many people play better in competition is because they manipulate the scorecard better."

No. 10--Nassau Nellie. Handicap is 43; average tournament score, 101; low tournament score, 99. Difference between average score and average tournament score: 12 strokes. She refused to comment.

The USGA's J. Edgar Hoover of handicapping, Dean Knuth, points out that even the most sophisticated equipment won't overcome indifference at the club level. "A club that follows the USGA Handicap System must have a handicap committee that should have at least four persons and must work closely with the local golf association," he says.

And as for the comments of the sandbaggers on our list, Knuth isn't buying any of their alibis.

"I don't see how they can fool themselves," he says. "They aren't fooling us."


The USGA's Golf Handicap and Information Network (GHIN) has tracked the tournament scores of thousands of golfers and has identified those who play consistently better in tournaments than their handicaps would indicate. From these scores the following profile of a manipulator has been developed:

  • Percentage of all golfers identified: 0.15 percent, or 1.5 per 1000 golfers.
  • Average handicap: 20 (low 7, high 43).
  • Rounds posted per year: eight (as compared with the national average of 21). This profile is of a player who probably posts fewer than half his scores, or rarely completes a full round.
  • Scores best in two-day tournaments. Prepares especially for big club events.
  • Does not post "away" scores. The average golfer has posted four "away" scores among his bank of 20 rounds. The manipulator rarely has one score away from home. He practices away from home, but does not post his scores.
  • Beats his handicap by at least six strokes in tournaments play. The average golfer beats his handicap by only 2.7 strokes as his BEST score in 20 rounds. Fewer than nine percent of golfers ever beat their handicap by six strokes, and only two percent have ever beat it by nine strokes. Sandbaggers not only accomplish this rare feat, they manage to do it only in tournaments.
  • Tournament scores appear as only 10 percent of his record. He loads his record with many more non-tournament scores than tournament scores.
  • Scores many strokes higher than his tournament scores immediately before and after a tournament. The player who came out at the head of the list on the computer had only scores from 92 to 111 in 1982, posted a 105 on May 25, 1983, and his next two scores (both tournament scores, in July) were 76, 76. His next score was 106--an incredible ability to rise to the occasion.

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