The term “Beating Your Handicap” is often misunderstood even by quasi-experts who should know better. John Paul Newport of the Wall Street Journal wrote a player will only score three strokes better than his handicap once in 43 rounds (“Fighting Back against Sandbaggers,” July 2-3, 2011). Kelly Neely, Senior Director of Handicapping of the Oregon Golf Association (OGA), wrote the chance of beating your handicap by 10 strokes is 1 in 37,000 (Handicap Blog of the OGA appropriately named “Preferred Lies”). Both writers apparently misread Appendix E of the USGA Handicap System which presents estimates of the probability of scoring various net differentials. Net differentials and strokes are not the same thing. This can be seen in a simple example:
Assume a player has a 13.0 index on a course with a Slope Rating of 131 and a Course Rating of 71. The player would have a course handicap of 15. If he played ten strokes better than his handicap he would shoot a 76 (i.e., a net 61). A net differential is the subtraction of a player’s handicap index from the differential for the score:
Net Differential = ((76-71) x 113/131)) – 13.0 = 4.3 – 13.0 = -8.7 rounded to -9.0
Referring to the aforementioned Appendix E, a player has a 1 in 3,577chance of having a net differential of -9 or better. In this example, Ms. Neely is off by a factor of ten in the likelihood of shooting 10 strokes better than one’s handicap.Mr. Newport’s error can be forgiven since numbers are clearly not his strength. It is more difficult to understand how Ms. Neely can make such a simple mistake. Ms .Neely is not only the Senior Director of Handicapping of the OGA, but also has sat (or sits) on the Handicap Procedure Committee of the USGA. If anyone should understand the handicap system, it should be her. More disturbing, when informed of her error, Ms. Neely refused to take down her post. As will be documented in later posts, the inability to admit to an error appears to be a prerequisite for advancement in the bureaucracy that administers the handicap system.