All posts by Mr. X

Mr. X answers a question from “Can’t Count”

In his running advice column, Mr. X, answers a question from “Can’t Count”.

Q: Dear Mr. X,

I was in a club tournament this past week and my match play competitor called a penalty on me when he discovered I had more than 14 clubs in my bag (an extra lob wedge I’d put in my bag to practice with the day before). I hadn’t hit the club during the round, but now understand it was a rules violation to have more than 14 clubs.

I was penalized two holes in match play, which is the maximum number of holes I can be penalized. It still sits wrong with me that my competitor conveniently noticed my violation on the 3rd hole of the match, but I can’t say for sure he purposely waited until the 3rd hole to call the penalty.

I understand the rule now, but my question comes from trying to understand why 14 clubs, and where did the number come from anyway? Everyone seems to understand the rule, but has no idea where or why the number is 14.


Can’t Count


A: Can’t Count,

It sounds like you are well aware of your mistake and rules violation. Rule 4-4 of the USGA Rules of Golf covers the 14-club limit and the penalties assessed in either Match or Stroke Play.

From your description, it sounds like you and your fellow competitor followed the rules correctly with your penalty of a maximum of two holes lost in your match for the violation. I do understand your suspicion that your competitor “conveniently” noticed on the third hole of the match. Was it gamesmanship or bad sportsmanship? Who knows, but I would let that one slide off your back and just chalk the whole thing up to a good lesson learned instead of putting your competitor in a bad light for calling the violation.

It’s better, in Mr. X’s opinion, to just recognize you made a mistake, learn from it, and don’t repeat it.

As far as why and how the 14-club maximum originated, it dates back to a time where golf was played with hickory shafts and involves the great Bobby Jones and Britain’s, T.A. “Tony” Torrance.

LocalGolfer’s writer, Keith Cook, covered this topic in an article entitled: Why We Yell “Fore” & Other Golf Traditions in January 2014. The following section on “Why are there 14-clubs in the bag?” is taken from that article.

Why are there 14 clubs in a bag?

R&A Clubhouse-St. Andrews

The official rule for a maximum of 14-clubs in a player’s bag was put in place by the USGA in 1938 and the R&A in 1939. But why 14-clubs and not another number?

Bobby Jones
Bobby Jones

The origin of the number is a legendary story, and one that gives Bobby Jones and T.A. “Tony” Torrance credit for settling the debate. Most are familiar with Bobby Jones and his place in the game. However, not as well known, T.A. “Tony” Torrance, a dentist by profession, was a well-respected golfer in the United Kingdom and a person of great influence within the R&A.

T.A. "Tony" Torrance
T.A. “Tony” Torrance

The story’s origin dates back to the 1936 Walker Cup, held at Pine Valley Golf Club in New Jersey. After a round, Bobby Jones and Tony Torrance were discussing the numbers of clubs that different players carried. There was no limit to the number at the time, and it was common to see 20 or more clubs in a player’s bag. The issue had been in debate for a number of years, but to no avail because no one could come up with an agreed upon number. During the discussions, I’m sure over a drink or two, Jones shared that he carried 16 clubs in his bag during 1930, the year he won the Grand Slam. Torrance then shared, he had only carried 12 clubs in the Amateur Championship in 1935 at Royal Lytham. “Let’s split the difference,” one or the other of them says, “and we’ll make it 14.” The story sounds far fetched, but is given some credence because Tony Torrance was about to become Chairman of the R&A Rules Committee, and Bobby Jones also had significant influence within the USGA. It should be noted, the 14-club rule was first introduced and established by the USGA in 1938, and in 1939, when Tony Torrance was appointed as the R&A Rules Committee chairman, the R&A adopted 14 as the fixed number as well.

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Mr. X answers a question from “Getting Old”

In his running advice column, Mr. X, answers a question from “Getting Old”.

***This question was paraphrased from a conversation at a golf course during a post senior-league meeting … also known as the 19th hole. Mr. X received permission to post this question from the originator and share the discussion with LG’s readers.***

Q: Dear Mr. X,

I’ve been playing golf since I was a little kid and that’s a long time. Just this season, I’ve noticed I’ve lost a lot of distance off the tee, but I’m not ready to move from the senior tees to the women’s tees as some of my friends have suggested. I know it’s just an ego thing, but my friends and I all play from the senior tees on my course. On some holes, the loss of distance is no big deal, but on others it’s no fun anymore and I’m thinking of giving up the game. I’ve been playing golf for over 40-years and play to a current 18.8 handicap index from my set of tees.


Getting Old


A: Getting Old,

First, getting old is a problem we all hope to have some day, because the alternative sucks. Whereas Mr. X can 100% understand your hesitance to move forward to a set of tees that some have designated as “ladies”, like most things in life, times have changed.

Tees are no longer thought of this way and are what they have always been … simply yardages set on a golf course, where golfers can enjoy the game, at their skill or distance level, for their entire lives. You may no longer have the fastball you once did, be able to run the mile in under six minutes, but you can still make eagles, birdies, and pars in golf because the greatness of our game allows it.

We all lose distance as we get older, but the thought of moving up a set of tees shouldn’t drive you away from a game you’ve loved your entire life. Moving up a set of tees is definitely something to consider and by the way … not be ashamed of. Also, keep in mind with today’s equipment and ball fitting options, you may be able to sneak some of that distance back into your game. Modern equipment, with lighter flex iron and wood shafts, lower compression golf balls, and clubs designed specifically to get the ball airborne faster, are all great options to help you regain a little distance.

USGA Handicap Calculator TM ResultsEven though you see the move forward to the red tees as a gender barrier, understand this move will not significantly affect your handicap by USGA numbers and will still provide you plenty of challenge. Using the USGA’s Course Handicap ™ Calculator and playing the silver tees at your course, your handicap is an 18.8 with a course rating of 68.2 and slope of 122 – meaning you play to a 20-handicap from your current set of tees. Moving up a set of tees, your new course rating would be 65.8 with a slope of 110, and your new course/tee handicap would be 18. It’s important to understand, two strokes is all we’re talking about in the larger picture and hopefully this will make the decision easier. So … move up a set of tees the next time you play and begin to enjoy our great game once again!


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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?


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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To ask Mr. X a question, please either leave your question/s in the comment section of the column, or email Mr. X at

If you prefer, questions can be asked anonymously through email. Just let Mr. X know you want to keep all names private to protect the innocent.