Monday, April 28, 2014

Why Section 10-3 is Ineffective

A major problem with Section 10-3 is a player has to be the Jack the Ripper of sandbaggers to be affected.  More moderate sandbagging, while still a winning strategy, escapes the clutches of the Section.  A review of the methodology of Section 10-3 will expose its weakness.
The reduction in index for exceptional tournament scores is a function of the difference between a player’s index and the average differential of his two best tournament scores (T-scores).  For a reduction to occur, this difference must be greater than the “Standard Difference” set by the USGA.  The Standard Difference varies with the number of T-Scores a player has in his file as shown in the Table below.  If a player has three T-Scores, for example, the difference must be equal to or greater than 4.5.  If a player competes on the same course, the following inequality must be met for an index reduction to occur:

Eq. 1)     Standard Difference ≤ Handicap Index – (Avg. 2 Gross T-Scores – Course Rating) · (113/Slope                                      Rating)
For simplicity, assume the two gross scores are the same.  Since a player’s handicap is his index multiplied by the Slope Rating divided by 113, Equation 1 can be reduced to:

Eq. 2)    Standard Difference · (Slope Rating/113) ≤ Handicap – (Gross T-Score – Course Rating)
Since a player’s Net Score is his Gross T-Score minus his handicap, Equation 2 becomes):

Eq. 3)    Net Score ≤ Course Rating – Standard Difference · (Slope Rating/113)

Avg. of 2 Net Scores for Reduction in Handicap Index
(Course Rating = 68.7   Slope Rating = 119)

Number of T-Scores
Standard Difference
Avg. of 2 Best Net Scores[1]

Now let’s see what Net Scores are necessary to trigger the reduction in index.   For illustration, the Course Rating is 68.7 and the Slope Rating is 119.  Assume a player has a 17.5 index and 14 T-scores.  The Table indicates that if he has two Net Scores of 63, he will not see a reduction in his index (i.e., his two net scores average above 62.4).  A 17.5 index leads to a handicap of 18.  To have a Net Score of 63, he would have a Gross Score of 81.  Two Gross Scores of 81 would lead to an average tournament differential of 11.7.  To determine if there would be a reduction, the average tournament differential is subtracted from his index.  In this case, the difference is 5.8 (17.5 – 11.7).  To receive a reduction this difference must be 6.0 or greater.  Therefore, the player’s index is not reduced under Section 10-3 as the Table predicts.

The Table indicates great scores do not necessarily lead to a reduction in index.  The player can further reduce his chances of getting a reduction by 1) playing in only one tournament a year , 2) managing his score with discretion in four-ball competitions (e.g., finding a water hazard when your partner is safely on the green), and 3) posting regular rounds as tournament rounds when the handicap committee is not paying attention.

While Section 10-3 does not always punish the guilty, it can snare the innocent.  For example, assume a player is a 10.4 index and an 11 handicap on the course described above.  He has two net scores of 68 (gross scores of 79) in a tournament, and did not win anything.  His two tournament differentials average 9.8.  Later in the season his Handicap Index increases to 13.9.  At this point, Section 10-3 kicks in and the player’s index is reduced by 1.0. He is assigned a 12.9R. If the player continues to slump and his Handicap Index increases to 14.9, he is whacked even harder and given a 12.3R.

When Section 10-3 was introduced, its aim was to identify the flagrant sandbagger and hang a scarlet “R” around his neck. This goal was never met.  Instead, getting an “R” implies either 1) you are currently in a slump, or 2) you were not clever enough to avoid being caught.

[1] Both differentials must be 3.0 below a player’s Handicap Index.   

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Truth about Section 10-3

An article by Kevin O’Connor appearing in Fore Magazine entitled “The Truth Behind those Tournament Scores” contains a statement that ironically appears to be untrue:[1]

Sometimes golfers impacted express the concern that at the time the score was posted it did not seem exceptional, but as a player’s normal calculation increased a score/differential may have become exceptional.  This was purposely implemented as part of the formula, which is all about potential ability.

In other words, players have objected to receiving a reduced index under Sec. 10-3 even though they did not do well in a tournament.[2]  O’Connor argues this reduction was a purpose of Sec. 10-3.  Evidence indicates  such reductions were not the result of well crafted regulation, but rather an unintended consequence.  Let’s examine three pieces of evidence:

1. The USGA entitled Sec. 10-3 “Reduction of USGA Handicap Index Based on Exceptional Tournament Scores.”  It was not entitled “Using Tournament Scores as a Measure of a Player’s Potential. “  If the USGA wanted to measure a player’s potential, a sample of two scores is too small to be reliable.  A more reasonable approach would have been to adopt a “cap” where a player’s index is limited to a certain number of strokes over his low-index of the year. [3]

2. The example in the Handicap System implies the tournament scores were “exceptional.”  After all, the purpose of Sec. 10-3 was to impose a penalty on a player who won with scores that were much lower than expected.  Nowhere in the Handicap System does it explicitly discuss how tournament scores can become exceptional as a player’s index increases sometime later.  If the USGA really thought of Sec. 10-3 a measure of a player’s potential ability, it seems likely it would have mentioned this added benefit somewhere.  More to the point, the USGA indentified the problem early on.  Dean Knuth wrote in 1994 “The Handicap Research Team….(is) seeking ways to keep from reducing declining players whose early  year tournaments are much better than their current performance.” [4] 

3. Sec. 10-3 creates inequities contrary to the purpose the Handicap System.  Let’s take an example of a player with two T-score differentials of 10.0 made while he was an 11.0 index.  It is likely our player did not win anything in the two tournaments.  When this player plays a competitor with the exact same scoring record (though no T-scores), however, he must give strokes.  If both players had a 16.0 index, for example, the non-tournament player would receive four strokes (assuming the Slope Rating is 113) from the tournament player as shown in the Table below.  This is contrary to the purpose the Handicap System which is to “enable golfers of all levels to compete on a comparatively equal basis.” [5]  It seems unlikely the USGA would “purposefully” create such inequity.
Reduction in Index

Sec. 10-2 Index

 Sec. 10-3 Reduction
Strokes Given to Non Tournament Player

The Table also reveals another paradox of Sec. 10-3.  If Sec. 10-3 is to measure a player’s potential, why is that potential dependent upon his Sec. 10-2 index?  As shown in the Table, a player with a 17 index is assigned more potential (i.e., a lower index) than a player with a 14.0 index.  If two players had the same tournament scores, shouldn't their potential be the same?  The  initial Sec. 10-3 is at least consistent by keeping a player’s potential (i.e., reduced index) independent of his Sec. 10-2 index once the net differential (handicap index – average of 2 best T-score differentials) threshold of 3.0 is reached. [6]

Based on this evidence, it is likely the USGA didn't consider the collateral damage to the innocent bystanders described above.  The good news is the incidence of such damage is very small.  The bad news is the lack of casualties stems from Sec. 10-3 being ineffectual in punishing both the guilty and the innocent.  The low apprehension rate of Sec. 10-3 can be traced to at least three causes:

·              Some tournaments use a format where scores cannot be posted (e.g., Chapman, scrambles).
·              Four-ball tournaments allow the unethical player opportunities to manipulate his score.
·             Sec. 10-3 is not applied uniformly.   Sec. 10-3 is often ignored at some clubs, and used too often at                   others.  This makes the Section both ineffective and inequitable.

The USGA has never published any research on the effectiveness of Sec. 10-3.  When asked recently how many players receive a reduced index, the USGA replied “We do not keep such statistics.”[7]  Apparently the USGA does not want to know the effectiveness of this section.  Sec. 10-3 lives on since it: 1) gives the illusion of curing the sandbagging problem, 2) does not generate negative feedback since so few are affected, and 3) relieves the indolent handicap committee of the responsibility for rooting out the unethical player.  In essence, it is the perfect bureaucratic solution.     

[1] O’Connor, Kevin The Truth Behind “Those Tournament Scores,” Fore Magazine, Southern California Golf Association, Winter 2014, p. 66.  O’Connor is Director of Handicap and Membership for the Southern California golf Association.  He previously serve as Senior Director of Handicapping for the United states Golf Association.
[2] Sec. 10-3, “Reduction of Handicap Index Based on Exceptional Tournament Scores,” USGA Handicap System -2012-2015, pp. 78-83.
[3] Such a cap is part of the handicap system of Australia—see Golf Australia Handicap System, 2014.
[4] Knuth, Dean, et. al., “Outlier identification procedure for reduction of handicaps,” Science and Golf II, E and F Spon, London, 1994, p. 233.
[5] Lahman, Eric, “Purpose of the USGA Handicap System,”, 2009.
[6] Sec. 10-3, “Reduction of USGA Handicap Index Based on Exceptional Tournament Scores,” USGA Handicap System, 1994, pp. 41-43.  The player in the example would play to the lower of his current index or 13.0 (i.e., average of two T-scores + 3.0).
[7] E-mail to author from Annie Pollock, USGA, November 20, 2013.