What you don’t know.

You tend to imagine. Often wrongly.

My father’s college students had a hard accepting/imagining him coming home each today to put his feet up and watch reruns of the Beverly Hillbillies while drinking a Dr. Pepper and eating a Snickers bar (a combo he learned from his mother). They, and most everyone else I encountered, had a different image of him than the reality. They assumed his intellectualism never stopped. Nor did they know that his working of crossword puzzles was not only about the pleasure of the challenge, but to always help him with finding and remembering words that substitute for words with an “r” in them.

Of course, this is true for all of us – our home lives are often secret lives, save specific examples like the Jenni.cam in the 1990s.

But actually I want to talk about golf.

So I learned something the other day. I had heard and read (forum posts and blog posts) that a player would normally shoot his handicap about 40% of the time. I learned this is wrong. The answer is closer to 20-25% of the time and that is when adjusted for course difficulty.

A player’s handicap is calculated thusly:

  1. Calculate the score differential of the last 20 rounds. This is (Score – Course Rating)*113/Course Slope. (A 92 at my regular course translates to (92-71.7)/134=17.12)
  2. Use the 10 lowest differentials. If you have fewer than 20 rounds, the USGA has table telling you how many scores to use.
  3. Take the average )mean) of the lowest differentials and multiply that by 0.96 and this is your handicap.

So, what does it supposed to mean? What is it supposed to tell you and others?

Basically, on a good day, you will shoot your “target score” or perhaps a bit lower. The Handicap Index is simply a way compare your potential to that of the potential of other golfers, and is normalized to each course. That’s what the target score is – your handicap adjusted to the difficulty of the course you are playing.

The Course Handicap = Handicap Index * (Slope Rating of Tee on Course / 113)  or, in my case, from the white tees at my course, 17.2*134/113=20.4, rounded to 20.

Add the course handicap to the course rating and round, (71.7+20)= 91.7=92. And so on a good day, I should a 92 or bit better, maybe 20-25% of the time according to the USGA. Most of the rest time, the USGA says I should shoot about 2-4 strokes higher. Key word is “most”. Normal distributions suggest on occasion I will shoot even higher especially since my worst scores, half of my most recent 20 aren’t included.

So, if you think about it as a data problem, and its associated math, it’s quite easy to understand that your likelihood of playing to your handicap or hitting your target score is going to have a lot to do (mathematically at least) with the dispersion of your scores. Someone with a great deal of consistency, with scores that vary within a range of  maybe four strokes, will almost always play close to their handicap. For someone like me who has a current range between 88 and 112 (ouch! bad day at a tournament) a really good day is between 88 and 92, a regular day, about 50% of the time 92-96 or so does seem to be realistic. And it comports with my reality. A quarter of the time I do worse.

So, I really should give myself more of a break than I do. Much more of a break. I’ve been thinking all along that I should be playing much better than I do. Of course, I keep trying to, but I should probably try harder to just enjoy.

Be nice. It won't hurt either of us.

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