Tag Archives: Handicap

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.

1429477010_portrait-16-256To Read More From Mr. X, Click Here

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

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.

How To Catch A “Sandbagger”









Golf Blogger, Keith Cook, takes a look at the odds of a golfer shooting “the round of their life” every time they tee it up in a tournament.

If you’ve played golf long enough, you’ve experienced the golfer who plays “the round of their life” or scores much better than their handicap in big tournaments or when money is on the line. These rounds normally involve post-round discussions and verification of a handicap (USGA or otherwise) and the hushed whispers or downright callouts of the golfer as a “Sandbagger.”

What is a Sandbagger? In the simplest terms, a “Sandbagger” is someone who misleads others by claiming to be worse at golf than they actually are. Sandbaggers use (or claim) an inflated handicap with the intent of winning money or trophies and to give themselves an advantage in tournaments, or in money bets with others.


“Sandbagging” is not new and has been around as long as golf handicaps have existed. Give some people an edge, and they’ll take it – that’s reality. Hustling, which is what a sandbagger is actually doing, exists in all games and sports . . . especially individual ones.

People hustle others in the game of pool. They act coy about not understanding a card game and when they win the pot, utter statements like, “Wow, this must be my lucky day!”

We’ve all been there and golf is not alone in the art of the hustle.


In fact, it may surprise you to learn, the question of “sandbagging” comes up so often in competitive golf, the USGA has developed a statistical formula to identify the probabilities for outside of the norms scoring.

It should be emphasized; there is nothing within the USGA formula that 100% identifies a golfer as a sandbagger. What the formula does provide however, is a probability quotient, which can help golfers and others – i.e. tournament officials – determine a baseline on which to make judgments and decisions.

Decisions like disqualification from a tournament or other actions, such as moving an individual into another handicap flight.


USGA research, through the USGA Handicap Research Team, tells us “the average player is expected to play to his/her Course Handicap or better only about 25 percent of the time.” If a golfer plays better than their handicap at a greater percentage, their handicap decreases. The opposite is also true, and if a golfer plays above their handicap regularly, their handicap increases.

To understand the formula, let’s look at a real life scenario.

“Bob,” an 11.7 USGA handicap, enters the season ending handicap tournament at his club. In the tournament, Bob shoots 74 on a Par 70 course and not only wins his flight, but also wins the overall net prize for the lowest net score in the tournament. Bob’s 74, with his 11.7 course handicap, means he has just shot a net 62 on a Par 70 course or -8 under par.

Bob is happy and it’s “his best round of the year”, but before we accuse Bob of sandbagging, what are the odds of Bob shooting a round this low? Let’s use the USGA formula to find out.

USGA Odds ChartThe USGA Formula requires certain data points to work. To use the formula, you need to have the player’s score, the USGA Course Rating, and the USGA Slope Rating of the course played. Below is Bob’s data.

Bob’s Course: Par 70, USGA Course Rating: 66.8, USGA Slope Rating: 115

  • USGA formula:

74 (Bob’s Score) – 66.8 (Course Rating) = 7.2 x 113 (USGA fixed number) = 813.60 / 115 (Course Slope) = 7.1 Handicap Differential THEN

7.1 (Handicap Differential) – 11.7 (Bob’s Handicap) = -4.6 Net Differential

Using the USGA “Odds” chart, you’ll see the probability of a Net Differential of -4.6 off Bob’s handicap is 1 in every 121 rounds of golf.

(Score – Course Rating x 113 / Slope Rating = Handicap Differential THEN Handicap Differential – Handicap = Net Differential THEN See Probability Chart)


Accusing someone of sandbagging – essentially cheating – is a serious thing. Is “Bob” a sandbagger? The officials at his club thought so and disqualified him, but that was based on not only one “great round,” but repeated “great rounds” at the right times.

Each circumstance is individual and has to be treated as so. Great rounds can, and do, happen and when they do, should be lauded. It’s the regular reoccurrence of the “great rounds,” especially under pressured conditions, which can bring suspicion and attention.

Golfers, by reputation, are very honest people. However, there are always those small percentages of people who go against the grain. The next time you run up against a potential sandbagger, remember to check out the USGA probabilities to see how great their round really was.

If warranted, inform tournament officials of your concerns and/or be very careful to not bet with him/her again . . . at least not with their current handicap.

Editor’s Note: Have you ever had to deal with a “sandbagger” or ever been accused of “sandbagging” yourself? What was the outcome? Please share your story with us in the comments section. We would love to hear from you.

BIO: Keith Cook has been a writer and contributing editor at thelocalgolfer.com since 2013. Follow Keith @_KeithCook on Twitter.

Author’s Blog: Click Here

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