STUDY: How Your Handicap Affects Your Score
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STUDY: How Your Handicap Affects Your Score

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STUDY: How Your Handicap Affects Your Score

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?

WHAT IS A HANDICAP?

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.

DATA FROM THEGRINT

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.

AVERAGE TAKEAWAYS

  • 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

GIR % TAKEAWAYS

  • 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.

FIR % TAKEAWAYS

  • 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

DISTRIBUTION TAKEWAYS

  • 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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Chris Nickel

Chris Nickel

Chris Nickel

Chris is a self-diagnosed equipment and golf junkie with a penchant for top-shelf ice cream. When he's not coaching the local high school team, he's probably on the range or trying to keep up with his wife and seven beautiful daughters. Chris is based out of Fort Collins, CO and his neighbors believe long brown boxes are simply part of his porch decor. "Isn't it funny? The truth just sounds different."

Chris Nickel

Chris Nickel

Chris Nickel

Chris Nickel

Chris Nickel

Chris Nickel

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Chris Nickel

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Chris Nickel





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      Jim Wright

      8 months ago

      My current Handicap Index is 23.1. My course handicap for on a course I will play later this week is only 19. For figuring my adjusted score for the round do I use 23 or 19.

      Reply

      Livininparadise

      8 months ago

      You use the course handicap. An index is only used to calculate the course handicap.

      The article did a horrible job in explaining that

      Reply

      RJ

      2 years ago

      A few random comments/opinions about handicaps, integrity, etc. (some of which has been touched-on previously):

      1. Most people don’t know that Equitable Stroke Control (ESC) died when the new World Handicap System (WHS) came into effect. Further, “Net Double Bogey” (WHS) is confusing to a lot of people. This from an NCGA article (re: net double bogey): “Easily the source of the greatest confusion surrounding the WHS. I like the maximum-hole score procedure (ESC) because it is tried and true (been used worldwide for years) and is favored by the mathematicians to generate superior results…and it’s not rocket science!”

      2. Most people don’t know the basic rules of golf (e.g., the differences between yellow and red penalty areas and the relief options for each).

      3. Intentional handicap inflation is one of the reasons many club members no longer play club events with a handicap component. Who knows how much revenue clubs lose due to honest players’ disgust with sandbaggers.

      4. You mentioned the word “integrity” (generally defined as how you act when no one else is watching). In my experience, the guy who cheats on his handicap, is the guy who will cheat on his taxes, his employer, his wife, etc. It’s simply a sign of the times. Sad. I was originally drawn to the game because of its self-governance, etc. Unfortunately, it’s often viewed as “it’s not against the rules if no one catches me.”

      Reply

      Steen Rabol

      2 years ago

      Wow, so my handicap show how I play- that is news of the year

      Reply

      Chuck

      2 years ago

      Yup, next up…. How your age is effected by how many birthdays you’ve had.

      Reply

      Mill Phickelson

      2 years ago

      In The Netherlands, most golf courses will not allow you to play without an official handicap.

      This attitude may also explain the lack of golf talent from NL though…

      Reply

      Erik

      2 years ago

      Phil is right- why does a nation like Sweden, which has less than half the population of The Netherlands, have so many good golfers, and NL has hardly any? I believe that the Dutch don’t see golf as a real sport, like speed skating, for example. Golf has yet to be discovered as a real sport in my native NL. The Dutch are finally building more courses, so maybe there is hope…

      Reply

      Mike

      2 years ago

      Shouldn’t this article be about your index? I thought you had a golf “index” & then the course handicap was built around that index.

      But since we using the handicap terminology, I feel there are 3 types of handicaps. An ego handicap, a sandbagger handicap & a legitimate handicap. I honestly don’t see too many ego handicaps. I see a lot of sandbagger handicaps. I’ve known some unreputable guys who actually carried 2 handicaps, one for their ego & a sandbagging one for when they played in events. In the men’s league I used to be in, I heard guys say that if they’re not playing well that day, they’ll start “experimenting” out there without regard to their score, all to beef up their handicap (amazing what people will do for a few $).

      Reply

      J Thorpe

      2 years ago

      One of better articles recently done. The provided charts were very informative. I am currently a 12 and had been a 7, prior to getting golfer elbow. What I noticed was my GHIN did not adjust up as fast as it went down, hard cap is in effect
      I track driving distance and first putt distance on my score card to understand what to practice. I also know that golfers and airplane pilots are not ever as good as we think we are, for which grace is required.

      Reply

      Rob V.

      2 years ago

      Will you expand this study from other sources such as Arccos, Garmin and 18Birdies ?

      Reply

      Tony P

      2 years ago

      Would be interesting to see what the standard deviation is. It’s tough to beat the guy who only broke 90 twice during the first 5 months of the year & shoots an 83….

      Also, it would be interesting to see stats on the first 12 holes v the last 6. Are people choking or cheating coming down the stretch?

      Reply

      Pauls

      2 years ago

      Very Interesting stats. For the last 3-4 years I have been running the weekly competition at our club and here are my insights/opinions:
      Unless you play where you don’t “nudge” the ball and putt out every hole, your handicap is probably several strokes too low.
      Many golfers would have a higher handicap if they knew the rules and applied them correctly.
      Many low handicap players have a handicap lower than it would actually be if they posted all their rounds.
      The world handicap system has helped high handicap players be more competitive (win more often)
      Many high handicap players have too high a handicap as they post their actual score and fail to adjust it down to Net Double Bogey..
      There are not a lot of sandbaggers, but I still wish it was easier to catch them.

      Reply

      Kevin S

      2 years ago

      @Pauls, LOL, I had to laugh at your comment… At our club, a couple of us joke about how some of these new members play “neighbor golf’- like when you bring your neighbor who plays 2x per year for a round- and he takes mulligans, illegal drops, fluffs up in rough, scoops gimmees from 4 feet, etc. and proudly proclaims he shot an 81. (more like 93, lol). There is always one or 2 newbie club members a year to come in playing that way with their self proclaimed HC (“I am like a 10, shoot low 80’s”) playing that way. After a month or two, playing by the rules- they suddenly are like a 22… I think every club has a few guys that come in with “vanity” handicaps, only posting their good scores (ego) then after realizing they are screwing themselves and losing $$$$ in matches for a year or two, morph into the other extreme- sandbagging..

      Reply

      Doug S

      2 years ago

      re: Fairways hit average. As a Grint user, I often don’t bother to adjust the fairway setting on each hole, and the default is “Fairway Was Hit”. Check the database: I bet a non-trivial number of players do the same and “hit” 100% fairways per game. Those should be excluded from the average

      Reply

      Chris Nickel

      2 years ago

      This would explain quite a bit!

      Reply

      Jay Chen

      2 years ago

      Yup, I was going to say the exact same thing as Doug S. The Grint for many years was defaulting to “fairway hit”, and too many button clicks/laziness to change it. The grint says my FIR is 45%, but it’s more like 25%.

      James R.

      2 years ago

      I agree I make that mistake too on the Grint.

      Reply

      John Courtney

      2 years ago

      54? I don’t think I could do the Stableford math for someone off that!

      Reply

      Andrew the Great!

      2 years ago

      “Also, if golf is a game rooted in honesty and integrity, why do so many people lie about their handicap?”

      My guess: because when they lie about their handicap, they’re NOT on the course at the time, so they don’t expect to have to prove it. They may be completely honest and full of integrity on the course when they have to be, and when others are watching. But off the course there’s no similar incentive to be truthful, and depending on how pretty the lady is, there’s incentive to lie.

      Reply

      Andrew the Great!

      2 years ago

      TheGrint’s database of handicaps seems less than ideal. The X-axis in the first image says “handicap” but we don’t have absolute handicaps, we have handicap indexes.

      This means our handicap for every round of golf is course-dependent (https://www.usga.org/content/usga/home-page/course-handicap-calculator.html).

      If TheGrint isn’t calculating their data by COURSE handicap, then it’s not nearly as reliable as it appears.

      For example, my index is 7.9. Where do I fall on TheGrint’s X-axis? 8? If so, then my average score is 13 over par. But a review of my most-recent 20 scores shows my average score is 80.9 or just 9 over par. That’s 31% lower than they say it is.

      The more I delve into the data gathered by ShotScope, Arccos, and TheGrint, etc., the less confident I am in the data and, of course, their conclusions and analyses based on that less-than-stellar data.

      Ultimately, I guess the issue is threefold:

      1. Is ANY of the data gathered from amateur golfers adjusted for COURSE handicaps?
      2. The data gathered from amateur golfers relies significantly on self-reporting by those amateurs of their handicaps and, in the case of proximity to the hole data, proper reporting of pin locations.
      3. GPS is just not precise enough to provide useful measurements to the foot.

      Reply

      Andrew the Great!

      2 years ago

      “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.”

      That’s about 90% of the math involved. A differential is calculated by “(adjusted gross score minus the USGA Course Rating)” x 113 / Slope, and that result truncated beyond the tenths place. (And there’s ESC adjustments that may or may not apply on a round-by-round basis.)

      Being a CPA, I naturally have maintained an Excel spreadsheet for years and years, keeping track of my round data (in part to make sure the USGA and now the WHS do their calculations correctly). OCD perhaps, or I just like to see a snapshot of my most recent 20 rounds’ data) plus my own comments about each round.

      On a related note, regarding Arccos and ShotScope data by handicap, IINM they *don’t* track data based upon a golfer’s *course* handicap, they only use whatever nominal handicap they have in their database. And that nominal data is user-provided, which lends an even less-reliable element to their output.

      For example, my index is 7.9. I played a 118/69.2 course on Thursday. My index is 7.9 but my course handicap was 6. Does ShotScope/Arccos record my round data as if I’m an 8, or as if I’m a 6? I don’t know. At another course here in Puerto Rico my course handicap (from the tips) is 16, but when I played from the tips, did Arccos/ShotScope reflect that my results were from a 16-handicap? Again, I don’t know. Do you?

      This is hugely relevant to getting reliable, useful data from Arccos/ShotScope, and if they’re NOT adjusting their data to reflect the golfer’s *course* handicap, then their data are even less reliable than they already are.

      Reply

      Steve S

      2 years ago

      I’ve been playing regularly since 2003 and have never carried an “official” handicap. I have tracked it using one of the many free apps/spreadsheets. Am I surprised 90% don’t have one. No. Most golfers are recreational and don’t care or want to….especially if you are a 90-100’s shooter. Personally, I’m cheap, don’t play in tournaments, scrambles, etc that require an “official handicap”. Since it costs $25-40 per year to keep one why would I? Around here that’s a round of golf.

      Reply

      Mike

      2 years ago

      $25 a year is out of your price range?

      $25 for a round of golf. Where do you live, buddy? I’m moving there tomorrow.

      Reply

      Kevin S

      2 years ago

      Why would you pay the $30 to maintain a handicap? It can open opportunities for fun tournaments. My club is similar to many private clubs- you cannot bring a guest to the annual member-guest without an official GHIN. Due to last minute issues- I have seen lots of guys of the years scrambing for a last minute replacement for any golfer in their circle of friends who has an official GHIN to fill in….. In any amateur tournament/9-hole Mens league or other events- this is the one thing (HC) that can protect the field. to some extent from the sandbaggers.

      Reply

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