(The United States Golf Association (USGA) has made various attempts to control players who manipulate their handicaps in order to do well in tournaments. The name for such manipulation is “sandbagging.” If the USGA’s effort can be characterized as a war, then it is not winning. A series of five posts examines the history and effectiveness of the USGA’s war plan. Part I details the flaws of the USGA’s earliest attempt at controlling sandbagging. Part II examines a proposed policy that increased the penalties for alleged sandbagging. Part III argues the current handicap system may actually encourage sandbagging. Part IV explains why the USGA could be losing the effort to win the hearts and minds of local golfers. Part V examines the flaws in the USGA's current war strategy. Part VI asks if the USGA's efforts are counterproductive and suggests it may be time for the USGA to withdraw from the battlefield.)
The Reduction in Index for Exceptional Tournament Scores
(RIETS) has been part of the USGA’s neverending quest to snag
sandbaggers. The USGA’s effort has been
plagued with flaws. In its earliest
form, the RIETS gave a player a good chance to receive an index reduction if he
played in a sufficient number of tournaments.[1]
The USGA reacted to this problem by making the reduction in
index a function of the number of tournaments a player entered. While this
greatly reduced the probability a player would receive a reduction by chance,
it also made the RIETS less penal and less effective as an instrument for
controlling sandbagging.[2] The focus here, however, is not on the
efficacy of the RIETS, but on conceptual problems with the current RIETS. A conceptual problem exists when the RIETS
assigns reduced indexes that are not consistent with the general premises of
the USGA Handicap System.
Two such problems are identified here along with a remedy
for correcting the inconsistencies inherent in the present RIETS.
1. My Partner Always
Kills Me, But I Get the Lower Handicap!  A general premise of the USGA
Handicap System is that a player with the lower scores should have the lower
index. This is not always the case under
the RIETS. Let’s look at an example:
Two players, A and B, always play together from the same
tees. Player A’s adjusted score has
always been higher than Player B’s in every round they have played. This month, however, Player A finds his USGA
index is lower than Player B’s. How can
this happen?
Answer: Player A has a handicap index of 14.0, while Player
B’s index is 9.4. Player A has two
tournament differentials that average 5.0.
Player B has two tournament differentials that average 4.0. Player A has his index reduced by 8.1 giving
him a reduced index of 5.9. Player B’s
index is reduced by 2.6 giving him a reduced index of 6.8. On most courses, Player A would have to give
Player B one stroke.
Under the old RIETS, the penalty for exceptional performance
was a function of how well you played in tournaments.[3] Under the latest RIETS, the penalty is a
function of how well you played relative to your current index. One argument in support of the USGA’s latest
approach is that a player should receive a greater penalty for shooting a lower
net score. For example, assume that
Player A had a 14.0 Index while player B had a 12.0 index. Further assume for simplicity that they play
a course with a slope rating of 113 and a course rating of 71. If both players have two tournament scores of
75, Player A would have scored a net 61, while Player B scored net 63. Player A would have a reduced index of 4.8,
while Player B would receive a reduced index of 5.2. The USGA is essentially adding an additional
penalty to the higher handicapped player.
The USGA could argue
that the additional penalty is assessed because the tournament scores of the
higher handicapped player are less likely due to chance and there is a greater
chance of sandbagging being involved.
The USGA has not made this argument, but if it did, it does not have
much merit. You might as well argue that
the winner of the Powerball lottery must have cheated since the probability of
winning is so low.
Other evidence
speaks against the penalties being based on the probability of occurrence. The Appendix presents the marginal increase
in the index reduction for an increase in AVDIFF (the average of the best two
tournament differentials below the player’s handicap index). The marginal increase becomes smaller as the
AVDIFF increases. For example, as the
AVDIFF goes from 4.5 to 5.0, a player is hit with an increased index reduction
of .8. But as the AVDIFF goes from 11.5
to 12.0 the increase in index reduction is only .5. If the USGA were penalizing performance on
the base of probability, the marginal increase in the index reduction should go
up and not down.[4]
The Worse I Play, the
Lower My Index!  Another curious element of the current the RIETS is that
the worse a player scores, the lower his index goes. Let’s take as an example a
player who has two tournament differentials that average 2.9. Table 1 shows his reduced index for various
handicap indexes and 1019 TScores.
Table 1
Reduced Index for
Various Handicap Indexes
Handicap


Index

Reduced Index

14.0

4.6

13.0

5.0

12.0

5.5

11.0

6.2

10.0

7.0

9.0

8.0

8.0

8.0

If the player had a 12.0 handicap index and 1019 TScores,
he would receive a reduced index of 5.5.
If he plays poorly and his index rises to 13.0, his reduced index would
be lowered to 5.0. His index has decreased
because he is in a slump. The RIETS,
however, makes no distinction between a player’s index at the time of his two
TScores and at some time later. This
violates the basic tenet that a player’s handicap should be based on his
potential. His potential can be measured
either by his tournament scores or his calculated index. To increase the penalty because a player is
not playing well seems outside the bounds of rational handicap policy.
Remedy  One
remedy for making the RIETS more rational is to eliminate the Handicap
Reduction Table and go back to simple formulae.
Table 2 below shows the reduced index for various levels of TScores
under the proposed remedy.[5]
Table 2
Reduced Index for
Various Numbers of TScores
Number of TScores

Reduced Index

2

3.0 + Average of Two Lowest TScore Differentials

3

3.5 + Average of Two Lowest TScore Differentials

4

4.0 + Average of Two Lowest TScore Differentials

59

4.5 +Average of Two Lowest TScore Differentials

1019

5.0 + Average of Two Lowest TScore Differentials

2029

5.5 + Average of Two Lowest TScore Differentials

3039

6.0 + Average of Two Lowest TScore Differentials

>39

6.5 + Average of Two Lowest TScore Differentials

The Reduced Index would be the player’s USGA Handicap Index
provided that it is at least one less than his USGA Handicap Index based on the
Formula in Section 102 of the Handicap System manual.
Let’s see how this formula would work on the problems raised
in this post. First, there was the
problem of a player with the lower gross scores having the higher index. Player A had a 14.0 index and two tournament
differentials averaging 5.0. Under the
proposed RIETS, his reduced index would be 8.
Player B had an index of 9.4 and two tournament differentials averaging
4.0. Player B’s reduced index would be
7.0. That is, the player with the better
tournament performance has the lower index.
This outcome is consistent with the premise that lower scores should
receive lower indexes.
Second, the problem of a player’s index rising as he played
worse is eliminated. This problem no longer exists since the reduced index is
no longer a function of the player’s index, but only of his tournament scores.[6]
The
proposed RIETS is not quite as penal as the current RIETS. A player with a 13.0 index and two TScore
differentials averaging 3.0 would receive a reduced index of 3.8 under the
current REITS. Under the proposed RIETS
he would receive a reduced index of 6.0.
Change, however, should not be made on the basis of which procedure is
more penal, but which is more equitable.[7] While the current penalty is short of “cruel
and unusual,” the conceptual problems identified here strongly argue that the
RIETS should be reexamined by the USGA Handicap Procedure Committee. As discussed in the next post, however, a
strong case can be made for simply eliminating the REITS
Appendix
Marginal Increase in
Handicap Reduction for Increase in AVDIFF (Average of best two TScores below
Handicap Index)[8]
Number of Eligible Tournament Scores


AVDIFF

2

3

4

59

1019

2029

3039

>39

3.0 to 3.4


3.5 to 3.9


4.0 to 4.4


4.5 to 4.9

.8


5.0 to 5.4

.8

.9


5.5 to 5.9

.8

.8

.9


6.0 to 6.4

.7

.8

.9

.9


6.5 to 6.9

.7

.8

.9

1.0

1.0


7.0 to 7.4

.7

.7

.8

.9

1.0

1.1


7.5 to 7.9

.7

.7

.8

.9

.9

1.0

1.1


8,0 to 8.4

.6

.7

.7

.8

.9

1.0

1.0

1.2

8.5 to 8.9

.6

.7

.7

.7

.9

.9

1.0

1.1

9.0 to 9.4

.7

.7

.7

.8

.8

.9

1.0

1.1

9.5 to 9.9

.6

.6

.7

.7

.8

.8

.9

1.0

10.0 to 10.4

.5

.6

.7

.7

.7

.9

.9

1.0

10.5 to 10.9

.6

.5

.6

.7

.7

.7

.8

.8

11.0 to 11.4

.6

.7

.6

.6

.7

.8

.8

.9

11.5 to 11.9

.6

.6

.6

.7

.7

.7

.8

.7

12.0 to 12.4

.5

.6

.6

.6

.6

.7

.7

.8

12.5 to 12.9

.6

.5

.6

.6

.7

.6

.7

.8

13.0 to 13.4

.5

.6

.6

.6

.6

.7

.7

.7

13.5 to 13.9

.6

.6

.5

.6

.6

.6

.7

.7

14.0 or more

.5

.5

.6

.6

.6

.6

.6

.7

[1]
See “The USGA’s War on Sandbagging – Part I The
War Begins,” www. ongolfhandicaps.com, 9/9/2013.
[2]
Assume a player is a 14.0 index and plays a course with a course rating of 70.9
and a slope rating of 128. Further
assume he has played in 30 tournaments.
If he shot two rounds of net 63 in the MemberGuest, he would not
receive a reduction in index for his performance. Under the old system (1991), the player would
receive a reduction in index of 2.3.
[3]
In its most general form, the formula for a player’s reduced index was:
Reduced
Index = AVGTD + Constant
Where,
AVGTD = Average of Two Lowest Tournament
Differentials
As can be seen, the Reduced Index is not a function of
a player’s index.
[4]
The Appendix raises the question if there is any theory behind the numbers in
the USGA Handicap Reduction Table. The marginal increases do not continuously
decrease. It is difficult to conceive of
any mathematical function that would behave in such a fashion.
[5]
The formula is derived by setting the index reduction equal to 1.0 at the
initial break point for a particular number of tournaments. For example, the index reduction for a player
with two tournaments would be:
Index
Reduction = 1+ (AVDIFF  4.0)
Now,
AVDIFF
= Index  Average of Two Lowest TScore Differentials
The reduced index is:
Reduced
Index = Index  Index Reduction
Substituting, the reduced index formula simplifies to:
Reduced
Index = 3.0 + Average of Two Lowest TScore Differentials
[6]
This remedy also minimizes the breakpoint
problem where small changes in a player’s index can lead to relatively larger
changes in the player’s reduced index. For
example, under the current RIETS, a player with two TScores and an AVDIFF of
8.4 receives a reduction of 6.8. A
player with an AVDIFF of 8.5 receives a reduction of 7.4.
[7]
It would not be difficult to make the formulae more penal if that was warranted.
[8]
The USGA Handicap System 20022005,
United States Golf Association, Far Hills NJ, 2002, p. 54. Note: The Handicap
Reduction Table should more properly be termed the Index Reduction Table since
that is what it does