Mr. X Answers A Question From “High Handicapper”

Golfer picking up ballIn his running advice column, Mr. X answers a question from “High Handicapper”.

Q: Dear Mr. X,

What is the deal with writing down a lower score according to your handicap? I played with a guy who picked up his ball and didn’t finish out the hole in a skins game. He was just off the green and laying 7. As far away as he was, he probably would have taken three more shots to finish out. When I asked him about it, he said that according to his handicap, he couldn’t take more than a 7 on a hole. What’s the deal?  Aren’t you supposed to count all strokes, and finish out the hole? I just joined a men’s club and I am an 18 handicap. Can I do that, too?

Signed,

High Handicapper

A: High Handicapper,

What you witnessed (in incorrect fashion by the way) is called Equitable Stroke Control (ESC) under the USGA Handicap System. And yes, you can – and should – use ESC to manage your handicap.

However, it always surprises Mr. X how many golfers use and understand ESC, but don’t know the proper procedures of how to drop from a hazard, hit a provisional ball, or other common rules. The reason is simple though because ESC lowers your score after a round and the other examples add strokes to your score and so are not as advantageous to learn.

What you saw is common and take some comfort in knowing that most golfers incorrectly apply and use ESC. Most golfers do exactly what your competitor did; they stop and pick up their ball and say things like “that’s the highest I can get.” Also, take comfort in knowing a 7 (or higher) on a hole is probably not going to win a skin.

To fully answer your question, the actual application and procedures of Equitable Stroke Control (ESC) are covered under the USGA Handicap System Manual and also referenced in Section 4, Handicap FAQs (image).

Equitable Stroke Control (ESC), USGA Handicap System Manual
Equitable Stroke Control (ESC), USGA Handicap System Manual

So as you see, ESC is correctly applied AFTER the round … not during the round … not when you’re having a bad hole, etc. However, what you saw it in action, with your competitor picking up his ball, is much more common by golfers than the actual correct application of ESC.

Many times this is done by golfers due to a misunderstanding of how ESC is supposed to work. It’s also even fair to say that sometimes golf leagues have maximums as well (double bogey max, double par max) to save time. Check and see what the maximum score rules (if any) are of your new league. It’s great to hear you’ve joined a league for the first time and now since you understand ESC, you can correctly apply it to your handicap (after the round) and help others understand it as well.

Thank you for your question.

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  • Joe Boto

    Wow never knew this, my friends and I have always picked up once we got to our max. this is going to slow down our rounds 😉