Thursday, July 17, 2008

Ask Linda #76 - ricochet off 150-yard pole

While playing the a par 5 at our course, my playing partner hit a great 2nd shot, straight down the middle of the fairway. Unfortunately, his ball in its descending flight hit the 150 pole. His ball ricocheted and landed in the rough, perpendicular to the 150 pole.

Does he play his ball from where it came to rest or does he get some form of relief, say within 2 club lengths of the 150 pole? My partner took relief from a spot he projected his ball would land.
Lou Lou

Dear Lou Lou,

When a ball is deflected by a 150-yard post it is a rub of the green. The ball must be played as it lies (Decision 19-1/1). When your partner picked that ball up and played it from the spot he estimated it would have landed, he played from what is known as a “wrong place.” He incurred a two-stroke penalty (loss of hole in match play) for playing from a wrong place (Rule 20-7). Furthermore, if he gained a significant advantage from moving the ball he would be disqualified. From the situation you describe, it appears that the player lifted the ball out of the rough, returned to the 150-yard pole, and walked forward to drop it further down the fairway. That sounds like a “significant advantage” and a disqualification to me.

When in doubt, play the ball as it lies.


Copyright © 2008 Linda Miller. All rights reserved.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Ask Linda #75 - reduced handicaps in tournaments

Linda, what's the justification for running a tournament and having a lower percent of the handicap apply? I note that this applies in many tournaments. First, they take out the high ten scores and apply a percent formula to determine someone’s handicap. This is less than 100%. Now you enter the tournament and are penalized more.
Lou Lou

Dear Lou Lou,
This is an excellent question, Lou, and I would imagine there are a great many golfers out there who are wondering the same thing. Handicap Indexes and reduced handicaps in tournaments are two of the great mysteries in many golfers’ lives. I will try to unravel them for you.

Let’s start with how your Handicap Index® is computed and why it is done that way. If a player has at least 20 scores in his record, then the computation works as follows:

1. The ten scores with the highest Handicap Differentials are disregarded. (These are not necessarily your highest ten scores, but rather the ten scores that are highest in relation to the difficulty of the course. For example, a score of 80 on a course with a rating of 72.8/127 has a lower differential –meaning that it is a better score– than a score of 77 on a course rated 64.3/111. A lower score does not always equate to a better score.)

2. The ten scores with the lowest Handicap Differentials are averaged.

3. The average is then multiplied by .96 (96%). All numbers after the tenths digit are deleted, leaving you with a Handicap Index that looks like 5.2 if you’re very good, and 25.7 if you’re working on your game.

What many golfers don’t understand is that their Handicap Index is not an average of their scores, but rather an indication of their potential. A golfer who turns in a score close to or at his handicap has had a very good day indeed. You are not expected to “shoot your handicap” more than 25% of the time. A score that matches your handicap is your dream score, not your average score. When you compete mano a mano with another player using your full Course Handicap®, if you play as well as you possibly can, and so does your opponent, you will come out even. This is what makes golf so special – it is one of the few games (can you name another?) where two players of widely varying abilities can compete evenly. Would you stand a chance against Roger Federer on a tennis court? Hardly. But could you best Annika Sorenstam in golf? You certainly could, using your handicap strokes!

So what the USGA Handicap System is doing is leveling the playing field. It’s saying: “The best I can score on this course is 85, and the best you can score is 73. Give me 12 strokes to make the competition fair, and let’s go out and see who can play closer to his potential today.” It’s a great system, and when players are honest and accurate about posting their scores, the handicap system works as it was intended.

Now to address your real question, Lou. You want to know why, after all of these computations to arrive at a Handicap Index that gives you a number that is lower than the average of your ten best rounds, that number is then further reduced when you play in team tournaments. (Incidentally, there should be no reductions to your handicap when you play in an individual tournament.)

There is a very detailed and enlightening 7-page essay entitled “What the New Multi-Ball Allowances Mean to You” that was written by Gordon H. Ewen and published in the USGA Golf Journal in 1978 that will probably answer every question you have ever had about handicap reductions in tournaments. If you would like to read it, here is the link:

I will extract the information that pertains to your question (just trying to make your life a bit easier). All quotes are from the heretofore mentioned article.

While using full handicaps in individual events makes the competition fair, the reverse is true in team events. The problem is that “higher handicappers produce a wider range of hole-by-hole scores than better and more consistent golfers do.” A good golfer will be getting mostly pars and bogies, so his net scores will be mostly pars and occasional birdies. The high handicapper, on the other hand, has a much better chance of scoring a net birdie or even an eagle on a hole where he has a par.

The USGA hired a math professor, an engineer, a member of the USGA Handicap Procedure Committee, and an aerospace scientist to determine what allowances would lead to the fairest competition in team events. One consistent result showed up in all of their studies, which was that if you choose a partner whose handicap is several strokes different from yours (preferably lower than yours), you will have a distinct advantage over teams with similar or identical handicaps. In a handicapped (net) event, a team of two players, both with a 5 handicap, are at a disadvantage against a team made up of a 5 and a 10 or even a 5 and a 15. You can read in detail about those studies in Mr. Ewen’s article. For our purposes here I will tell you that the research of these brilliant men led to the handicap reductions recommended by the USGA, which are as follows:

1. Individual stroke play: Each player receives full Course Handicap.

2. Four-ball stroke play (more commonly referred to as “better-ball”): Men receive 90% of Course Handicap, women receive 95%. The USGA recommends that the difference in players’ handicaps in these better-ball competitions not be allowed to exceed 8 strokes. This is because a team with a greater difference in Course Handicap has an advantage over a team with a smaller difference. However, the USGA recognizes that sometimes it is not possible to impose such a limit (mixed better-ball competitions come to mind – how many husbands and wives have Course Handicaps within 8 strokes of each other?). In those situations where it is not practical to impose a limit of 8 strokes on the handicap spread, it is recommended that both members of a team with a spread of greater than 8 strokes receive an additional 10% reduction. Another solution to the spread problem mentioned in Mr. Ewen’s article is to divide the field into flights based on spread, which is a solution I have tried and found very effective in making mixed competitions more equitable.

3. Two-best-balls-of-four stroke play: Men receive 90% of Course Handicap, women receive 95%.

4. One-best-ball-of-four stroke play: Men receive 80% of Course Handicap, women receive 90%.

I have listed the USGA-recommended handicap allowances for the more popular stroke play formats. For a complete list of the recommended allowances for all forms of match play and stroke play, please read Section 9-4 in The USGA Handicap System, which can be viewed on the USGA website (

In concluding his article, Mr. Ewen writes: “All things considered, the new allowances make sense and should be used. They are based on solid research; they are the fairest and most practical that could be devised; and they will add to your enjoyment of golf.”

How can you argue with “fair” and “practical?”

So, Lou, you can rest assured that the handicap reductions in team tournaments are designed to make the competitions as fair as possible. It may be difficult to accept the logic that reducing your handicap results in a more equitable tournament, but it does. Play your best and trust in the experts.


Copyright © 2008 Linda Miller. All rights reserved.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Ask Linda #74 - Dropping Zone rules

Hi Linda,
Probably everybody watched the play-off between Tiger Woods and Rocco Mediate [U.S. Open].

I learned a new rule, because I did not know that if you drop your ball in the dropping zone and it roles out of it you have to play the ball from that spot.

Maybe this is a nice issue to discuss on your blog because I did not know this but probably a lot of other people do not know this either.

Dear Lulu,

Thank you for your suggestion, Lulu. Dropping Zones are a common occurrence on golf courses, and the rule book is very specific on how to properly use them. You can find these procedures in Appendix I, Part B: Specimen Local Rules, #8, located in the back of your rule book.

Here is what you need to know about using a Dropping Zone:

1. You do not have to stand in the Dropping Zone to drop the ball.
2. When you drop the ball, it must first touch the ground within the zone. Note that if there is a line that defines the zone, then that line is part of the zone, which means that your ball may hit the line when you drop it.
3. The dropped ball does NOT have to come to rest within the Dropping Zone.
4. The only reasons you would ever have to re-drop the ball are if it were to roll into a hazard, roll out of a hazard (in the uncommon situation where the Dropping Zone is in a hazard), roll onto a putting green, or roll out of bounds.
5. This is one of the very few cases where if the dropped ball rolls closer to the hole you DO NOT have to re-drop it unless it rolls more than two club-lengths from the spot where it first hit the ground.

While we are on the topic of dropping a ball, I would like to clear up a common misconception. When you are taking relief from an immovable obstruction, an abnormal ground condition, or a wrong putting green, please be aware that once you have defined the area in which you are going to drop a ball, the dropped ball does not have to come to rest in this area. I have noticed that players will mark the area with two tees (this is perfectly fine), drop the ball, and if the ball rolls out of the area defined by the tees they will re-drop. This is not correct. The ball may roll as far as two club-lengths away from where it first hits the ground, which will often take it out of the area defined by the two tees. The drop must not be repeated simply because it rolls out of the defined area. As long as it does not roll more than two club-lengths away and meets all of the other requirements for a drop (e.g., does not roll into a hazard, onto a putting green, out of bounds, etc. – please read Rule 20-2c for a complete list), it is a good drop.

Again, Lulu, thank you for noticing an unusual rule and bringing it to everyone’s attention.


Copyright © 2008 Linda Miller. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Ask Linda #73-adjusting handicaps in unusual mixed format

Dear Linda,
I recently played in a mixed tournament. The men played from the white tees and the women played from the red tees. Each team had two men and two women. The team score for each foursome was the sum of the "net" better ball of the two men and the "net" better ball of the two women on each of the 18 holes. (The cards were dotted to show the handicap strokes. The men got their full course handicap from the white tees and the women got their full course handicap from the red tees.)

Prior to the tournament I mentioned to the tournament committee that I thought handicaps should be adjusted for the different tee boxes, however the tournament committee said that since the women were not competing against the men it was not necessary to do this. On our course the difference in course ratings would have resulted in giving each woman 4 additional strokes.

When two women with similar handicaps are playing in the same foursome these extra 4 strokes would occur on the same holes so the result would be to lower the team score by a total of 4, regardless of which woman had the better score.

However if the two women in a foursome had very different handicaps then the four extra strokes would fall on different holes for each woman. On a hole where one of the ladies had an extra stroke and the other didn't there is a situation where the extra stroke may go to the woman who played the whole badly and therefore the extra stroke was of no benefit to her team. The net result would be that this team's score would not be reduced.

Now one can argue that this high/low handicapper team has the potential of being able to lower the team score on as many as 8 holes if the team was lucky enough to have the better woman on a hole also having the extra stroke.

Should the handicaps be adjusted for the different tee boxes?

Dear Lulu,

Since the format you describe (net better ball of two women added to net better ball of two men) is not a traditional format, I consulted the handicap department of the USGA for an opinion. Here is the gist of the answer I received:

1. This is essentially a four-ball (better-ball) tournament. It is the recommendation of the USGA that the Tournament Committee apply the following handicap allowances for a four-ball competition: 90% of Course Handicap® for men and 95% for women. These handicap allowances help to make the competition more equitable. (This was not your question, Lulu, but I thought it was a good piece of advice to share with your Tournament Committee.)

2. The Tournament Committee at your club pointed out correctly that the women were not competing against the men (and vice versa) in this non-traditional format. Since the women were competing only against women, and the men only against men, there was no need to make an adjustment under 3-5 for men and women competing from different tees.

If this tournament had used the more traditional Two Best Balls of Four format, in which the men and women would have been competing against each other, then the Committee would have had to adjust for both the difference in slope rating and the difference in course rating between the men’s and women’s tees. [For a detailed explanation of how to do this, please see Ask Linda #65, published on June 1, 2008.]

Lulu, you have the honor of being the first “Lulu” to write a question that is longer than my answer!


Copyright © 2008 Linda Miller. All rights reserved.