Are You Handicapped?

By Charles Hopkins Published 07/7/2007 | Sports

Some 5 million golfers have established handicaps according to the United States Golf Association (USGA) rules. Given that there are approximately 36 million people who golf at least once a year in the United States, there are 31 million golfers who don't have a handicap.

Which brings up an interesting point.

Just think about the word "handicap" in the first place. In today's world, it seems that the term is not a particularly useful one. "What's your handicap?" "Well, I don't think I have a handicap. I may not be as smart as some, and I can't play golf as well as some. But I don't consider that a handicap."

So it makes you wonder why the term. Not to mention the concept behind the use of a handicap.

According to USGA Rule 35.18 a handicap is a numerical measurement of a golfer's skill and potential ability. It is used to help golfers of different skill levels compete fairly.

Without getting into the mechanics of calculating and using a handicap in golf tournaments, this article examines the efficacy and fairness of such a mechanism.

What is fairness in the first place? What distinguishes one golfer from another? Of course, it is their skill levels. Consequently, spotting one golfer over another doesn't seem fair.

Let's look at it this way. Take another sport like basketball. Let's say that the NBA or college basketball calculates an average score per team and adds a number of points to the favorite to even out the two teams. How fair would that be? Plus, how many people would go to such a game?

Let's say that Team A is spotted 20 points over Team B, because they are not as skilled a team. Consequently, Team B starts out the game 20 points behind. Sounds ridiculous, and it is. No one would dream of such a thing. Plus, how would Team A and its fans feel if the final score was 98-92? Would they feel that they are the better team? Most likely not.

How does that apply to the concept of the handicap according to the United States Golf Association rules?

Let's say you have a handicap of 19, and you are playing against a scratch golfer. Without getting into the mechanics of calculating a final score for a round using the handicap system, Golfer A is spotted 19 shots over Golfer B who is the scratch golfer. So Golfer B shoots a 67 (par for the course) and Golfer A shoots an 81 (which is a great round for the player with the handicap). Golfer A wins the round because he essentially subtracts 19 shots off his score, resulting in a final score of 62. How fair is that?

Now it is recognized that some tournaments are structured using the handicap system. And all golfers who enter the tournament know that. So they can't complain.

But how would Golfer A feel? Better than his opponent? I think not. He certainly wouldn't go around bragging that he was a better player than Golfer B.

Does this make sense? How many sports can you think of where the worse team or player is spotted points to make the game fairer? I can't think of a one.

That's our rant for the day. Agree or not?