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Ahead President Buhari Golf Cup, what you must know about handicap

Since it is almost certain that a star car prize will be handed to the best nett winner, including professionals at the forthcoming Daily Trust President Cup, tongues have been wagging on how an amateur’s Handicap will be determined against that of the professional who plays off scratch. This is how.

It has become a habit among golf aficionados to rattle out the old argument about how golf’s handicapping system allows players of all abilities to compete on an even footing, on any golf course in the world. They’ll say how a weekend footballer couldn’t have a knock around with the Arsenal team…well, you could, only you’d look foolish. Or how a member of your local tennis club couldn’t play a five-setter against Roger Federer. And that with snooker, a handicapping system exists to give everyone a chance against the likes of Ronnie O’Sullivan. Yeah, right. Ilow exactly does one go about winning a snooker game whilst sitting in a chair, watching? With golf, though, theoretically a high-handicapper could tee it up against, say, Ochei Odoh at the IBB course in Abuja and give him a decent game over 18 holes.

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‘Theoretically’ is the critical word in that sentence. Because yes, you could conceivably give the Nigeria’s best a run for his money. But in reality, it would almost certainly be a hopelessly one-sided affair.

The evidence, alas, is more overwhelming than an avalanche. Let’s first consider what Odoh’s handicap might be. If we apply the system adopted by amateurs in this country, and calculate a notional handicap based on the Standard Scratch Score (SSS), the figures will make you weep. A typical US Tour event takes place on a golf course measuring somewhere between 7,100 and 7,500 yards. The US adopts a ‘slope’ system for handicapping in the amateur game, which is different to that of other nations. But let’s ignore that technicality. The fact is, the equivalent SSS for this type of golf course would probably be in the region of 75 strokes, give or take a half-shot either way. Odoh’s average score over the course of a season is usually 68; again, give or take a tenth-or so of a shot. Therefore his handicap is plus-7.

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Just dwell on that for a moment, if you will. Plus-7. Equate that to your home golf course. Ochei stands on the first tee, effectively ‘seven down’ on the course. He must make seven birdies and no bogeys every time he plays, just to break even on his handicap for the day. And the scary thing is, he does. Week in, week out. And if you catch him on a good day, which it must be said occurs rather frequently, he’ll shoot a lot lower than that. For instance during the Heineken Classic at the awesome Royal Melbourne in Australia in the early part of the 2004 season, the huge South African, Ernie Els ripped this tough golf course to shreds with a round of 60, 12-under par. His handicap on that day was probably… wait for it, plus-16! Without wishing to offend the humble weekend golfer, trying to compete with that is as futile as flapping your arms and expecting to take off.

Against fourball, throw up the balls and, how-ever they land, be guaranteed of the prospect of a decent game. It may not always be close, but it is fair. The golfer with the lowest handicap simply gives shots to the other members of the group, usually based on three-quarters of the difference in handicap. So for instance, a golfer playing off a handicap of 14, against a 2-handicapper, will receive ten shots (three-quarters of the difference in handicap, 12, equals 10 shots) which he’ll get on the holes with a stroke index between one and ten. On each of those holes, a par for the 14-handicapper is as good as the 2-handi-capper’s birdie.

And think about those monthly medals. Only two divisions are usually required to separate an entire playing membership, typically those with a handicap of 14 and below, and those of 15 and above. That’s a big spread in each division. And every single golfer has an equal chance. Try that at a tennis club…well, try it and see what percentage of effort you could put up.

But check out someone of the class of Ernie, or Vijay Singh, or obviously Tiger Woods and you’ll be having the earliest bath in the history of sporting endeavour. But let’s not knock the handicapping system and say it is without merit, because nothing could be farther from the truth. At club level it is, indeed, one of the key factors which makes golf such a wonderful, enduring, captivating game.

Well all the above could seem as mere theory. But in order to wade off baseless argument the best nett at the Daily Trust President Buhari Golf Cup will be worked from participants’ authentic Handicap as signed by a Club’s Competition Secretary while a professional comes out with zero handicap.


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