Thursday, April 27, 2023

How Not to Conduct a Competition -II

The USGA goes to great length to explain “How to Conduct a Competition.”[1]  Unfortunately, the USGA does not warn of handicapping mistakes that lead to unfair competition.  Many of these mistakes involve competitors playing from different tees.  What tournament committees (TC) often neglect is that Course Handicaps from different tees should only be applied to net tournaments involving stroke or match play. Course Handicaps are not a cure-all that can be applied to every form of golf competition.[2]  This post examines a tournament where the limitation of the handicap system was not recognized and resulted in inequitable competition.

  •  Giving Gross Prizes When Competitors Can Choose Which Tees to Play – In this tournament teams were allowed to choose which set of tees they would play.  Flights were then constructed based on the combined Handicap Indexes of each two-man team.   Flights could have teams playing from the back tees and the forward tees.  Each flight would have gross and net prizes.  In the gross competition, teams playing from the shorter tees would have an obvious advantage. The TC should have recognized that this format was unfair, but it did not.   The mistake probably stemmed from the TC tradition of always paying equal gross and net.  Unfortunately, putting “equal” in the title does not make it so.[3]  The remedy to ensure equity is to have all competitors in a flight play from the same set of tees and eliminate “equal gross and net payoffs.                                                                                                                                             
  • The Mistaken Belief that Course Handicaps from Different Tees Make a Scramble Competition Equitable – The use of Course Handicaps from different tees in a scramble competition is not equitable as can be seen by example.  Assume we have two teams made up of a 12-handicap and a 15-handicap player.   Further assume one team chooses to play from the longer white tees while the other team chooses to play from the shorter forward tees.  Lastly, assume the move to the forward tees reduces the handicap of each player by four strokes.  The USGA suggests a team handicap should be 35% of the low player’s handicap and 15% of the high player’s handicap. The scramble handicaps for each team are shown in the table below:[4]


Low Handicap

High Handicap

18-Hole Handicap

9-hole Handicap

White Tees

.35 x 12 = 4

.15 x 15 = 2




.35 x 8 = 3

.15 x 11 = 2



As the example shows, using Course Handicaps from different tees does not ensure fair competition.  If the competition was held over 18 holes, the white-tee team would only have a one-stroke advantage to compensate for over 600 yards in distance.  In the 9-hole competition both teams would have the same handicap.  In essence, teams opting for the forward tees instead of the white tees (or opting for the white tees instead of the back tees) incurred either no reduction or at most a one-stroke reduction in their scramble handicap for making that choice.   This demonstrates the uneven playing field inherent in the tournament format.   Again, this problem can be corrected by having all competitors in a flight play from the same tees.

  •  Horse Race Format – It is difficult to handicap a horse race event that would level the playing field.  The TC avoided the struggle of having to find equalizing handicaps and simply had all players compete at scratch.  Not surprisingly, win, place, and show went to players from the first flight.  While the format was unfair, another problem was players were not told of the format before being asked if they wanted to play in the horse race.  To eliminate this problem, the TC should specify how all aspects of a tournament are to be run well before the start of competition.   
  •  Participation Determinants – The tournament was not well attended with only 70 entrants but with a capacity for 96 players.  Moreover, given the total membership, at least 300 potential players chose not to enter.  There are many reasons for this.  It is doubtful players recognized the inequity of playing from different tees and decided not to play. The flight structure was not available until the eve of the competition and therefore could not have affected the participation level.  More likely, players chose not to enter because they believed tournaments have a history of getting handicaps wrong, player handicaps are not adequately policed, and/or they have tired of seeing the same players winning low gross.  Another reason could be economics.  It cost a player $175 to enter.  If the player was fortunate to win his flight and get one closest to the pin he would receive $140 in pro shop credit.  So, even the winner does not get his money back and must be satisfied with only paying $35 for tournament food.  For half the field who failed to place, they are paying for meals with a retail value of $100 at most.  It is possible many members may view tournaments as profit centers for the pro shop and the food and beverage department and choose not to participate.  How the TC resolves the participation problem is yet to be determined.  One thing is clear, the TC should not impose tournament formats that favor one group over another.  Such mistakes as were made in this tournament only gives players one more reason not to participate.  It also indicates  artificial intelligence (AI) may be less of a worry than a lack of intelligence (LI).

[1] United States golf Association, How to Conduct a Competition, Far Hills NJ, 2012.

[2] For more examples of mistakes in competitions from different tees see “How Not to Conduct a Competition,”, June 14, 2014.

[3] For an examination of the equity of “equal net and gross” see “Is Your Tournament Equitable,”, October 22, 2012.

[4] The USGA does not specify how rounding to the nearest integer should occur.  In the tournament in question, each player was given an integer scramble handicap and the two were added together to get the 18-hole handicap.  The 9-hole handicap was 50% of the 18-hole handicap rounded to the nearest integer.

Thursday, March 2, 2023

The PGA Tour Forgets What It's About

The PGA Tour’s move to more no-cut tournaments neglects one of the most important reasons viewers watch golf tournaments. There has to be a compelling story to draw viewer interest. If not, you just have another LIV event with its dismal Nielsen ratings. The recent Honda Classic is a good example.  The tournament came down to a contest between Chris Kirk and Eric Cole. Kirk is making a comeback after fighting alcoholism.  Cole, who has own health problems, had a world golf ranking so low you wondered how he got into the tournament—until you saw his swing. Both players accredited themselves well in an exciting playoff.  They displayed class in winning and losing and showcased what the PGA Tour should be about.  To paraphrase the NFL, "On any given Sunday" anyone can win and not just the top 70.

Rory McElroy, who has turned into a flack for the Commissioner’s office, has said, “You ask Mastercard or whoever it is to pay $20 million for a golf event, they want to see the stars on the weekend.” The counter argument is, “If you can’t be in the top 65 and ties after Friday, are you really a star?  And do you want to see Rory with an early Sunday tee time fighting to come in 49th?  And if Rory is correct, what about the sponsors of non-designated events?  They are guaranteed to have few or no "stars."   Treating a tournament as a second-class citizen may have been the reason Honda dropped is sponsorship of the Honda Classic after 42 years. Will the Tour be better off if sponsors in a similar position head for the exits?

Then there are some statistical problems that need to be answered.  First, World Golf Rankings (WGR) are a lagging indicator of performance.  Jon Rahm, for example, can play like a dog for a year and probably not fall out of the top 70.  The new format sounds more like a closed union shop than a meritocracy.  Second, is the WGR really that accurate?  Are the top 70 really the top 70?   Probably not.  But if you have the top 156 playing, you will most certainly have the real top 70 players teeing it up.

Aping LIV by going to more no-cut tournaments is both hypocritical and bad for business. The PGA Tour owes it success in part to nurturing young players to replace aging stars. If young players see limited opportunity, they will direct their talents elsewhere.  That will not be good for the health of the game or for the Tour.