Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Another Inequitable Tournament and So It Goes...

This blog has documented many cases where a misunderstanding of the USGA Handicap Manual has led to inequitable results. The latest example comes from a tournament at a club in Southern California.  The tournament consisted of four different stroke play competitions of nine holes each: 1) Four-ball, 2) Total score of partners, 3) Scramble, and 4) Pinehurst. 
The Tournament Committee imposed a limit of 8 strokes between the handicaps of the partners.  The handicap of the higher handicapped player was reduced until the 8-stroke limit was reached.  This, however, is not what the USGA recommends:[1]
It is recommended that the Committee considers it a condition of four-ball stroke play competitions that the Course Handicap (after allowance) of the members of a side may not differ by more than eight strokes. A side with a large difference has an advantage over a side with a small Course Handicap difference. If a difference of more than eight strokes cannot be avoided, it is suggested that an additional 10 percent reduction be applied to the Course Handicap of each member of the advantaged side.[2]
Moreover, this recommendation is only for four-ball stroke play.  Its application to the other forms of competition, as was done in this tournament, is an egregious error.  To see the size of the error, assume Player A has an Index of 3.5 and Player B has an Index of 14.8.  The Table below presents the handicaps that were used in the Tournaments and those that would have been used if USGA guidelines had been followed. The USGA handicap calculations are shown in the Appendix.
Tournament and USGA Handicaps

Player A (3.5 Index)
Player B (14.8 Index)
Four Ball
Total Score

In Four-ball, Player B would play as a 7-handicap under USGA guidelines instead of a 6-handicap in the 9-hole competition. The competition used a modified Stableford scoring so that a net par was worth 2 points and a net birdie would be worth 4 points.[3]  It is likely the loss due to the Tournament handicap is in the 1 to 2 point range. (Note: The difference in Tournament handicaps after the allowance is 7-strokes and not the 8-strokes as recommended by the USGA.)
In the Total Score event, Player B would play as an 8-handicap rather than as a 6-handicap that was assigned by the Committee.  The loss due to the Tournament handicap is probably in the 2 to 4 point range.  If Player B bogeyed each hole where he had an additional stroke, he would gain 2 points.  If he made par on the two holes he would add 8 points instead of 4 for a net gain of 4 points.
The Scramble competition would not be affected since both the Tournament and USGA handicaps are the same.  Similarly, the handicaps are equal in a nine-hole Pinehurst competition.  The Tournament Pinehurst handicap of 3.5 is rounded to 4.0, the same as the USGA handicap.
The number of points lost by this team due to the Tournament Committee’s handicaps is in the range of 3 to 6 points.   Would this have affected the outcome?  Probably, since no team that had its handicap reduced by the 8-stroke rule came in the money.  The bigger problem, however, is the Tournament Committee that failed to follow USGA guidelines.   Players have an expectation a tournament will be run fairly.  In this case, that expectation was not met.

USGA Handicaps
Four-BallPlayer A’s course handicap is 4. His handicap after the 90 percent allowance is still 4 (4x.9= 3.6 rounded up to 4.0).  Reducing his handicap by an additional 10 percent still leaves the player at a 4-handicap (4  - .1 x 4 = 3.6 rounded to 4.0).  Player B’s course handicap is 16.  His handicap after the allowance is 14.  After an additional 10 percent reduction, his handicap is 13 (14 - .1 x 14 = 12.6 which is rounded to 13).
Total Score of Partners – The USGA recommends players be assigned their full handicap.  Player A would be a 4-handicap and Player B a 16-handicap.
Scramble – The USGA recommends the team handicap should be 35 percent of Player A’s handicap and 15 percent of Player B’s handicap.  Player A would have a 1-handicap (.35 x 4 = 1.4 rounded to 1).  Player B would have a 2-handicap (.15 x 16 =2.4 rounded to 2.0).
Pinehurst –The USGA recommends the team handicap should be 60 percent of Player A’s handicap and 40 percent of Player B’s handicap. Player A’s handicap would have a 2-handicap (.6 x 4 = 2.4 rounded to 2).  Player B would have a 6-handicap (16 x .4 = 6.4 rounded to 6).

[1] The eight stroke limit stems from research done by Francis Scheid published in Golf Digest in June 1971.  Scheid never studied actual tournaments, but used scorecards from his home club to simulate matches.   In 1971 there was no Slope System and the bonus for excellence was .85 rather than .96 as it is today.  Nevertheless, the  8-stroke limit has been imposed in many four-ball events even though it has never been proven to lead to increased equity in studies of actual competitions. 
[2] USGA Handicap System, Sec. 9.4bii.  The USGA does not recommend the 8-stroke limit for Four-ball match play.  The USGA’s reasoning does not seem consistent.  If a large difference in handicap leads to low scores in Four-ball stroke play, it would seem that a large difference in handicap would also lead to low scores in Four-ball match play—i.e., the team with a large difference would always have an advantage.  The USGA has never explained why the 8-stroke limit should only apply to Four-ball stroke play.
[3] Modified Stableford scoring adds an element of serendipity in deciding the winner.  Under modified Stableford scoring, two players with the same handicap and gross score can have different point totals in the Four-ball competition.  It is not clear if the Tournament Committee purposefully wanted to add an element of chance to the scoring or simply made a mistake in selecting the modified Stableford scoring system.

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