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xrayvizhen

What Should a Handicap Represent?

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This question is not at all meant as a criticism of the current USGA/WHS handicap system. It is simply a question of what should a handicap be? Should it reflect what a person’s potential is or should it reflect the skill level of a person’s current ability and by “current” I mean not what the golfer was 20 rounds ago but what he is now.

This question comes up every year at this time as my nine-hole weekly golf league approaches the end of our 20 week season, which this year calculates handicaps by averaging the rounds over par over the most recent 12 weeks played. Records are kept going back two years and only league play is used in the handicap calculations. What a person’s “real” handicap is, if he has one, has no impact at all on their league handicap. There are those in the league that like the current system, saying it follows along pretty well how the golfer is performing currently. Then there are those, like me, who suspect that it lends itself to sandbagging and mostly disregards the potential that someone has demonstrated.

Most of the people in our league do not have official USGA/GHIN handicaps, nor do they play very much outside of the league so they say going back 20 weeks and then averaging the best 8, as the current WHS does, would not fairly reflect how they’re playing now. I’m saying that a handicap should reflect what each player has shown he’s capable of.

Finally, one wonders if it’s possible for any handicap system to reflect both potential and current level of performance.

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I like that handicaps reflect a player's better scores within a reasonable time frame, and ignores the poorer scores.  But even accepting that, there's no magic to any one formula, best 10 of 20, best 8, you could try best 5 of the last 10, nothing is intrinsically "right".  I think the new system, using some averaging of the better scores, combined with the soft and hard caps, does a lot to combine current performance (last 20) with potential (looking back at your best handicap for a year, automatic adjustments for "exceptional" scores).

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I've always struggled with the concept of "potential" versus "average" performance. I've always thought the handicap should better represent "average," but I also understand that you shouldn't average every score because there are those outliers (which tend to be bad outliers more than good) that skew the average. In practicality I don't know what that implies - handicap should be 5 out of best 10, throw out the two best and 3 worst scores, 7 out of 10 - IDK.

The other area where I think the current system gives one pause is using the last 20 rounds. I'm going to post something like 60 rounds this year and I'm not sure that 20 rounds really reflects how I'm playing. Certainly for the league players you mention going into prior years probably doesn't make sense. Maybe there should be a time limit as to when rounds are counted.

All that said, I'm always surprised at how well the system works for regular golfers. One of my groups always plays net games and they are always competitive with everyone taking turns with good and bad days and the same people don't always win. So it works.

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1 hour ago, xrayvizhen said:

It is simply a question of what should a handicap be? Should it reflect what a person’s potential is or should it reflect the skill level of a person’s current ability and by “current” I mean not what the golfer was 20 rounds ago but what he is now.

you have to ask yourself what the intent of a handicap should be. The USGA handicap allows golfers of different skill levels to compete. In that regard, it should be a measure of their ability over a certain time frame. 

1 hour ago, xrayvizhen said:

Finally, one wonders if it’s possible for any handicap system to reflect both potential and current level of performance.

That would be impossible. You could certainly have an additional stat, like best 5 out of the last 20 rounds could be a glance at potential. Then, it would be useless as a handicap for matches. 

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I'd like it to reflect what you're current ability is but that can change drastically from person to person.  I don't carry an official HC but right now I'm practicing and playing regularly so I think whatever my HC would be would probably reflect where I am right now.  But if I didn't play any more rounds and went almost 6 months without playing like I did after my last round in 2019, if I did zero activities related to golf in that time period even though my HC would be the same as it is now it probably wouldn't accurately reflect my ability at that point.

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When I first started playing golf, I read that a handicap is the average of all golf scores. But as I understood golf more, I figured out that statement isn’t true. My handicap is currently 15 even. If that statement was correct, I’d be shooting 87 on average.

But I’m not. Most of my scores at my home course are high 80s or low 90s. On a good day, I can shoot 85. On a poor day, it’ll be 95. That being said, I believe that handicap should be a measure of potential, rather than average score. 

If handicap reflected purely average score, I could turn in a string of mid-high 80s scores on my home course and have a handicap of around 14, then go out and shoot 110 on a difficult course, like I did at Pinehurst last month. That would take my handicap up several notches. But, because of the way the handicap system works, your handicap doesn’t inflate with one bad round. Several bad rounds, yes. Because of the system, I can turn in one bad round and my handicap won’t really be affected.

Edited by dagolfer18

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I view handicap as a "Reasonable Expectation".  Yes, there will be days where I am on fire and shot much lower than normal or days where nothing works.  For me the handicap is my baseline to determine if I had a good, bad or average round.  It is also a gauge of improvement over time as, hopefully, the good rounds become more frequent and the bad rounds less so.

Our league uses only the 4 most recent rounds so handicaps can move around a fair amount.  It really does not matter since winning a match is worth only 4 points but having a Net-Par is worth 15 points, and more if the net is under par.  If I shoot well and lose my match, good for the other guy on a great round.  I can still get my 15+ "Hole Points" and him getting the 4 "Match Points" does not hurt that much.

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IMO....handicaps gives one information on a player's ability by my own categories...(your views will/may vary).....such as:

1) Excellent golfer - scratch and better

2) Very good golfer - 1-7 cap

3) Good golfer - 8-12 cap

4) Average golfer - 13-18 cap

5) Below average - 19 - 24 cap

6) Not a skilled golfer - 25+ cap

There's still a lot of bagging with some who have an 'official' cap....lots of vanity and sandbaggers who don't post their 'real' scores.

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Handicap is potential but it’s not long-term potential. It’s your actual, realized to potential.

Someone new to the game might have the “potential” to be a +3 handicap eventually but when they are first starting out they might be a 27.

I think people who see the word potential use the “wrong” definition for “potential.”

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2 hours ago, iacas said:

Handicap is potential but it’s not long-term potential. It’s your actual, realized to potential.

"Realized potential"....interesting concept.

I should mention, as one of the league managers, I'm going to suggest for next year we switch to the same system as the WHS, but I'm going to need to be able to reply to those who are inevitably going to complain. I'll get comments like, "I'm playing the worst golf of my life but my handicap isn't going up." So I'll need to be able to respond.

I'm also wondering if there's any reason why a weekly 9-hole league shouldn't use the WHS system and if there's something better for this kind of competition?

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6 minutes ago, xrayvizhen said:

"Realized potential"....interesting concept.

I should mention, as one of the league managers, I'm going to suggest for next year we switch to the same system as the WHS, but I'm going to need to be able to reply to those who are inevitably going to complain. I'll get comments like, "I'm playing the worst golf of my life but my handicap isn't going up." So I'll need to be able to respond.

I'm also wondering if there's any reason why a weekly 9-hole league shouldn't use the WHS system and if there's something better for this kind of competition?

A major aim of the WHS is to allow golfers from anywhere to compete on a level basis. So surely it’s the best method across the board. However it’s your league and it really has no bearing on anyone else. As long as nobody thinks their league handicap is an official handicap, it matters not how you adjust them.

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1 hour ago, xrayvizhen said:

"Realized potential"....interesting concept.

It's not a concept - it's reality. It's what you actually have demonstrated you're capable of playing — slightly better about 20% of the time, slightly worse 20% of the time, and worse (to varying levels) 60% of the time.

1 hour ago, xrayvizhen said:

I should mention, as one of the league managers, I'm going to suggest for next year we switch to the same system as the WHS, but I'm going to need to be able to reply to those who are inevitably going to complain. I'll get comments like, "I'm playing the worst golf of my life but my handicap isn't going up." So I'll need to be able to respond.

Why? As in why switch?

1 hour ago, xrayvizhen said:

I'm also wondering if there's any reason why a weekly 9-hole league shouldn't use the WHS system and if there's something better for this kind of competition?

Well, for nine-hole scores, if those are the only scores many of them are putting in, it's going to combine scores. So after week two, they'll have one 18-hole score. After ten weeks, five. Etc.

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21 hours ago, xrayvizhen said:

... Most of the people in our league do not have official USGA/GHIN handicaps, nor do they play very much outside of the league so they say going back 20 weeks and then averaging the best 8, as the current WHS does, would not fairly reflect how they’re playing now. I’m saying that a handicap should reflect what each player has shown he’s capable of...

I recommend not making a change to the WHS.  Most of the league members likely want a simple system that reflects how they are playing today.  Most league handicap systems are designed to be simple and to fluctuate relatively rapidly over a fairly short season. You and I know that no system is ever going to perfectly anticipate how someone will play next week based on how they played last week. Still, it sounds like most league members are okay with the current program, flaws and all.

The WHS is not simple.  It does not respond quickly; in fact, it is designed to respond slowly.  Maybe the WHS would produce a more accurate and fair league handicap but few members are likely to appreciate the change. 

Edited by bkuehn1952

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I'd probably go with the representation of a golfers skill level, and how much quality practice time they have invested in their game. 

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3 hours ago, Patch said:

I'd probably go with the representation of a golfers skill level, and how much quality practice time they have invested in their game. 

So measure skill level now or 15-20 weeks ago? And practice? Some do, some don't. 

We range in skill level from 9-hole handicaps of 3 to 20. Average is about 12. Our method produces week to week fluctuations of a a stroke when someone either blows up or has an epic round. It appears the ones who are the most inconsistent are at or near the top of the standings while the steady Eddie's are stuck in the middle of the pack. THATs the problem...or maybe that isn't a problem. I'm not certain.

Which all leads back to the original question.

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43 minutes ago, xrayvizhen said:

So measure skill level now or 15-20 weeks ago? And practice? Some do, some don't. 

Your handicap reflects what you actually score, on course.

I’m currently an 18. On a range, I can carry a drive 260, hit 15 greens in a row from 175 and drop 20 putts in a row from 30 ft to < 3 ft. 
 

On a course, I chilly dip. 3 putt. And hook. But every 10 rounds or so, I’ll shoot the lights out. 
 

In tournaments, my peers complain when it all comes together. (Really complain!) But I only get to play 12-15 rounds a year. A handicap is my adjusted score ... it’s what I actually post. If I played 30 or 50 rounds a year, the statistics would be different. But we don’t adjust for the statistical population of samples.

Still ... it’s a pretty good system...

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52 minutes ago, xrayvizhen said:

So measure skill level now or 15-20 weeks ago? And practice? Some do, some don't. 

No, at the shortest it's 12-20 rounds ago, and in practice, it's what it says it is: your best 8 of your last 20 rounds. Those rounds are pretty often distributed pretty randomly throughout those 20 rounds. They're almost never the oldest rounds out of the last 20 (and never are they weeks 15-20).

The WHS doesn't tie it to time, either, because some golfers take a year to play 20 rounds, and others will play 20 rounds in barely three weeks.

What do you want here?

What a handicap is, is defined and pretty clear. It's obvious.

The question you should be asking is of yourself and your league: what do you want OUR handicap system to be?

52 minutes ago, xrayvizhen said:

Which all leads back to the original question.

No, the original question is flawed, because again what a handicap IS is defined. It's known. It's understood.

You're asking a separate question that's league-specific. Nobody but you and the league can answer it, really.

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