Can You Play To Your Handicap?

Did you know that the USGA has conspired against you, so you cannot play to your handicap? In fact, if you have a well established handicap you should only be able to shoot to your handicap 25% of the time. For example, if you are a 5 handicap and the course rating is 71.5, you should shoot 77 about a quarter of the time. Believe it or not the average 5 handicap will shoot 80 on his average day, on an average course with a rating of 71 to 72.

Most golfers do not understand the USGA handicapping system, heck; most mathematicians do not understand the USGA handicapping system. The handicapping system is designed so that players of all skill levels can play together in the same tournament or the same foursome and actually compete favorably with each other. It is somewhat like playing horse in the back yard with your little brother; he is only 10 you are 18, to be fair you need to spot him h o r, so he has a chance to beat you. I cannot explain the system here, but if you have a mathematical sweet tooth, just go to and check it out. Suffice it to say, the formula takes into consideration the course rating, the course slope, adjusted score cards and your scoring history. And when all of that is said and done it will only take your best 10 of 20 rounds to represent your average golf score. You don’t even want to know how they do it if you have less than 20 scores; let’s just say it gets ugly. But once they figure your average differential (I am sure I read about that in high school shop class), then they turn around and multiply it by .96. So to recap; they take your best rounds, throw out your worst rounds, and multiply it by less than 1!

Now do you know why you cannot shoot your handicap? But the truth is, it is the same for everyone and really works quite well for honest competitors. If you have a player in your foursome who always shoots his handicap, or seems to have the capacity to smash his handicap when it counts, you need a new fourth. If you have an honest handicap, you should average about three strokes higher on a normal day, so a 20 handicapper on a normal par 72 course (assuming the course rating is somewhere around par) should average about 95 strokes. USGA officials have told me that a handicap should reflect one’s potential. And that is a good way to look at the handicap system; if you shoot your handicap you have played to your potential, you have played well. That doesn’t mean you cannot improve, bringing your handicap down is a lot of fun and very rewarding.

So next time someone complains that he cannot play to his handicap, just give him a smile and let him know that nobody can. But there is a secret here for your $5 Nassau; learn to manage the course and limit your high scores. If you aim to shoot 1 or 2 strokes over your handicap (with conservative play) you can start to win more than you lose.

D. Morgan is a frustrated golfer. While Mr. Morgan actually carries a very low handicap, he has never been impressed by most golf instruction. Morgan writes articles about golf and the golfing gene. Mr. Morgan’s finest instruction article, “The Secret of Golf” can be found, free of charge, at, a GPS/laser rangefinder site.

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