Is there anything less interesting in the game than discussions about handicaps and the system that calculates them?
The new World Handicapping System starts this year, a concept which seems so simple and sensible it’s difficult to believe it hasn’t been in existence since the beginning of golf time.
But the downside of making what should be a relatively simple change is all the chatter and bickering about what it all means to player handicaps.
For those among us who like things simple, the handicap system and its calculations are of no interest.
You turn up on the day, give the nice lady or man behind the counter your Golflink Number and they hand you a card which has a number in the box where it says ‘Handicap’.
For the life of me I cannot understand how anybody takes any more interest than that in the game’s ‘great leveller’.
Mathematical equations taking into account what teams of people have calculated to be the slope rating from each set of tees and how only your eight best of the last 20 rounds count after being divided by some fractional number is really of no concern.
People drive cars every day without ever giving a thought to the inner workings of the combustion engine.
Similarly, the finer details of how a television picture can be simultaneously viewed on both sides of the planet never enters our heads as we watch Tiger win the Masters.
But a golfer’s handicap moving because of a change in the system? Cue worldwide bleating about almost every element of how the system works.
Seriously, who cares?
Here’s the thing people: everybody plays under the same handicap system. It is an imperfect system because it can’t be anything else.
It is tracking human performance and, at the end of the golf spectrum where most of us reside, there is not enough consistency of said performance to come up with a system remotely reliable.
The truth is the number in the ‘Handicap’ box on any given day is completely meaningless. That’s why we sometimes have 42 stableford points and sometimes 24.
"Next time you go to play in a comp, try this experiment. Ask whoever is marking your card not to tell you what your allotted handicap is for the day."
And more relevant? It has absolutely no bearing on the actual shots hit on the course during any given round.
No 20 marker ever decided to lay up on a par-5 because he or she played off 20.
No scratch marker ever went for the green on a short par-4 because it was the ‘right’ thing to do for a scratch player.
Golf is not a game about numbers, it is about shots, but we so often put the cart before the horse.
Next time you go to play in a comp, try this experiment. Ask whoever is marking your card not to tell you what your allotted handicap is for the day.
Mark your own scores down with no accompanying stableford score. At the end of the day, add up your shots and calculate your points once you know your handicap.
It is all but guaranteed doing this will have zero impact on how you played – and how you chose to play – any or all of your shots that day.
So why bother with it at all?
Handicaps should be an after-thought in golf and the world would certainly be a better place if discussion of them took up a lot less digital space.
Forget the handicap system and just play. We’ll all be a lot happier (or at least I will).