Picture the best golfer at your local course. What is his/her handicap?

How about you? What’s your handicap? Do you have any idea where that ranks you compared to other golfers?


You’ll often hear the erroneous explanation that a handicap is a player’s average score. In reality, a handicap is a numerical measure of a golfer’s potential ability that allows players of various skill levels to compete against one another.

More specifically, the current index formula uses the average differential (adjusted gross score minus the USGA Course Rating) of the golfer’s best eight differentials from the most recent 20 rounds played. Once you start digging into the math a bit, it’s easy to see why golfers might prefer to think of a handicap as an average score. However, the latter will typically be several shots higher.


Quick refresher: TheGrint is an app-based handicap tracker with a multitude of on-course and community features. In addition, TheGrint’s platform interfaces directly with the USGA handicap system.

The following graphs leverage performance metrics from TheGrint’s database.


  • Golfers will often refer to a handicap as equivalent to the average number of strokes (over par) a golfer typically shoots. This is false.
  • A golfer’s handicap index is better thought of as their potential scoring ability.
  • The current index formula (revised in 2020) is calculated using the best eight scores from your most recent 20 rounds. However, a handicap can be established with fewer than 20 rounds.
  • Low-handicap golfers will average a score four to five strokes per round higher than their index.
  • Higher-handicap golfers will average a score six to eight strokes per round higher than their index.

How does my Handicap Effect my score


  • The best golfers tend to be the best ball strikers.
  • The statistic which best mirrors this reality is GIR% (percentage of greens hit in regulation).
  • A scratch golfer will hit 11 to 12 greens in regulation per round.
  • This is roughly three times the number of greens hit by a typical bogey golfer.
  • The average GIR% for all golfers in TheGrint database is 25 percent.


  • Hitting the fairway is important if you want to shoot lower scores but not all “misses” are created equal.
  • Scratch golfers hit nearly the same percentage of fairways as they do greens in regulation. They also had the highest percentage of fairways hit per round (64).
  • The database average for all TheGrint golfers is 57.8 percent. This figure is significantly higher than expected. One possible explanation offered by TheGrint is that higher-handicap golfers often play tees that are closer in proximity to the fairway and/or do not hit the ball as far as lower-handicap players. That said, the data could still likely benefit from additional examination.

Golf Handicap Study


  • According to the USGA, the average male handicap is 14.2. For women, that number is 27.5.
  • The handicap of an average TheGrint golfer is slightly lower at 13.8.
  • A handicap of four or less ranks you in the top eight percent of all golfers.
  • Scratch (or better) golfers represent less than two percent of all players.
  • It’s estimated that 90 percent of golfers do not carry an official handicap. It’s not reasonable to surmise that every golfer who doesn’t carry one is less skilled than those who do. But it is reasonable to conclude that the database averages for golfers with a handicap are lower than those without an official index.

As stated, this data is representative of golfers who use TheGrint’s handicap and performance tracking platform. That said, it appears to be largely in line (except for the percentage of fairways hit) with stats generated from larger bodies such as the USGA.

We’ll leave you with a couple of questions to ponder. First, is the USGA maximum of 54.0 too high, too low or just right? Also, if golf is a game rooted in honesty and integrity, why do so many people lie about their handicap?

All answers/theories welcome!


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