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The Nine Hole Conundrum



It is always fascinating to me how all sports seemed to have developed a structure that tests the participants for a sufficient length of time to separate the wheat from the chaff.  In football one has to play both halves. Remember the Super Bowl?  The seventh inning stretch doesn’t end the game, the 8th and 9th innings must be played. Long ago when the game of golf was being formed, somehow the founders knew that 9 holes would not require the consistency a truly sound golfer must have to succeed.  No, the test would have to 18.


A recent tournament in which I played reminded me of what I might call “The Nine Hole Conundrum.”  The “NHC” is that a double-digit handicap player can play almost like a scratch player, but only for nine holes.  If 18 holes are played, the longer contest inevitably sees the player revert to the norm.


In the tournament, Greg had a rough start Wednesday.  Our shot gun start began on #16 and he was 5 over par when we made the turn to #1.  At that point he became a changed man.  He shot -3 for the front nine.  Every shot was struck crisply, putts were holed and he even chipped in for a birdie.  Then, when we moved to #10, he fell back to his original form. At the end of the day, he had shot 33-49-82.


Most of us can probably recall how we once (or still?) were in search of “breaking 80” (or 90 or 100).  We could perform admirably for 9 holes.  It was totally frustrating to know we had the skills to reach our numerical goal but lacked the consistency to hold it together for a full round.


I don’t have the answer.  While I do have those consistent 18-hole rounds, there are many times where I fall prey to the “NHC” and turn a promising front side into a mess.


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Absolutely true.   I finally broke 80 earlier this year, after about 40 years of trying.   I don't know how many times I shot a score like 39-52.   I'd be thinking, "today's the day!" and inevitably, I'd do something like triple-bogey the 10th hole.    These days, 18 holes seems like exactly the right amount of holes to revert to the mean and always shoot about the same score; good start, bad start, whatever, it always seems to come out around 82 to 84. 

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there are many times where I fall prey to the “NHC” and turn a promising front side into a mess.

So true.

Conversely, while I often curse the round on the front 9, I don't have the game to salvage that first half into a personal best with a good 2nd nine.

Still, that possibility - slight as it may be - is what pushes us to towards what is often more punishment instead of just packing it in for day. Sometimes, we surprise ourselves and the drive home from the course is a pleasant one.

While I'll never have the ability to break 80 on 18, I've been within 3 strokes of 39 on 9.

Hope springs eternal.

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A player can hit one good shot, but not all of them.  A player can have one good hole, but not all of them.  The better the player, the longer the stretches of good play continue.  A player can have a good round, but its hard to follow that with another good one.  The longer the "sample size", the closer the play gets to the overall level of ability.  

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I've been even par for 9 holes a few times and once was 1 under for 9.  For 18, never even close (I was 3 over on an executive 18 once though)

The way I figure it is about 1 out of 100 I'll play the front 9 even and about 1 out of 100 I'll play the back 9 even.  Given those odds, what is the chance that I'll play two consecutive 9's even? 

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26 minutes ago, No Mulligans said:

The way I figure it is about 1 out of 100 I'll play the front 9 even and about 1 out of 100 I'll play the back 9 even.  Given those odds, what is the chance that I'll play two consecutive 9's even? 

1 in 10,000.  Keep trying! :beer:

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I can contest to this being true.   My best individual 9 hole scores were 39 at the Flint Golf Club and 37 at Holly Meadows.   I have not been able to break 80 when playing where scores counted toward my handicap.   I think if we took the 6 sigma bell curve to our scores, we'd find that @DaveP043 is absolutely correct.  I'm not capable of scoring that low consistently.  

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I'm not even capable of tying my shoes let alone playing well consistently for 18 holes.

My driver takes a day off, my irons are good, chipping sucks, putting is okay. 

Am I capable of having a good 9 holes sure, but 18 holes... Kind of out of the question.

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Nine holes is absolutely not enough to indicate skill level. The best half I ever scored was 3-over. No way am I skilled enough to play at that level over 18 holes.

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I'll play 9 holes when I don't have time for more. I approach it the same as 18. I just know there is less room (holes) for improvement, should I really mess up. 

When I play 18, I am always looking for 4 or 5 good shots. Those good shots being relative to my own game. Also, I am always looking for good scores on at least 6 holes. A good score on a hole for me is usually par. I suppose I could cut those values in half for 9 holes. 

9 or 18, in the end I have found it to be better to play one hole at a time. Not caring what happened behind me, and not looking a head to the next hole. 

At the very least, a 9 hole round can be a good time to fool around with my swing. Maybe practicing a few different shots as time might allow. 

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I was just browsing some of the blog entries and happened upon this one.  Oddly enough, I just posted a hole-by-hole recap of my latest round which details exactly this.  

I played the front nine in +3 but when I made the turn, things were just different.  I ended up going +17 on the back nine.  

One of the more frustrating things for me is when I'm out to just play nine holes... as is the case in our Wednesday evening game.  I seem to always play well (with a few exceptions) and it leaves me wanting more.  Then I have days like yesterday and I just shake my head.  

In your entry, you mentioned a front and back difference in a shotgun tournament.  I've done the exact same thing.  I started on the 13th hole and went +6 through my first 6 holes.  I made the turn and shot even par on the front side.  When I got to the 10th hole, I finished double - bogey - bogey.  I was +10 with all lost strokes coming on the back side.  

Golf is dumb.


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I can only get out for 9 holes (this time of year) after work. I like to use it as more practice than trying to shoot a good score. I like to try to shape shots or work on some issues that I may be having with my swing. Actually I have found that I really enjoy it. The course is usually pretty empty and I can concentrate more. It's one of the more enjoyable times I have on the course. Once in a while, I bump into someone else who's doing the same thing and we play a few holes together.

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Your buddy Greg and I have similar games.  I can start a round and be +6 after 5 holes.  But holes 6-14 I can play my best golf.  Then the wheels come off again on one or more of the finishing holes which leads to me scoring right at hdcp level.

Reading the initial post possibly gave me an idea:  When we play a round, maybe take the BEST 9 holes from a scoring perspective and see what a player is capable of scoring if we could duplicate scoring on the SECOND nine holes.

Your buddy Greg could have carded 66 had he been able to duplicate the same 33 he carded on holes 1-9.  Just a thought.


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It's so true! I recently had back to back games on the same course with 50-38=88 followed by 37-43=80 just 2 days later.  While It's nice to think that I played the middle 18 holes in 38-37=75, I have no reasonable explanation as to why it happened... Yes, I was slow getting in the groove with that 50 first nine (and incurred several out of the ordinary penalties), but that can't be all of the explanation.

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