Back to Basics: Handicapping 101 - Playing to Your Handicap | Oregon Golf Association

Back to Basics: Handicapping 101 - Playing to Your Handicap

What does “playing to your handicap” mean, and how often are you going to actually do it? Having a good understanding of what your chances are will not only help you make sense of the Handicap System, you won’t feel so badly those times when you don’t hit your number!
The first thing to know is how important USGA Course Rating is, and exactly how it plays into the equation.
Ever heard the term “Target Score”? Let’s say you’ve entered a tournament at Stone Creek GC, and you’re going to play the Blue tees, which has a Course Rating of 71.4 and a Slope Rating of 127. What’s the best score you could probably hope to shoot that day? Your Handicap Index is a 15.2, so it converts to 17 (using Course Handicap Tables or “Conversion Charts”). Now add the 17 to 71.4 for a total of 88 (rounded). This means you’ve played to your handicap for the tournament, which is a good showing!
This little bit of math illustrates that playing to your handicap is not about how well you think you played or the number of putts you had, but a measurable number. Notice that par has not been mentioned? That’s because playing to your handicap is not how your net score relates to par (forget about par – it just doesn’t give you enough information about a golf course’s difficulty in order to relate it to handicapping).
How often should you play to your handicap? Taking each component of the Handicap System formula into consideration, at the end of the day, playing to your handicap actually happens only once out of four to five rounds. But don’t get discouraged – there’s a good reason the USGA came up with this probability.
Even though all scores must be posted (the system needs lots of data to work correctly) the formula bases your Handicap Index on the better half of them. If, however, all of them were used, players with higher handicaps would see significant increases while those with lower handicaps would not increase as much. This would tip the balance of the system heavily toward higher handicap players.

So keep setting your target to play to your handicap – it’s good to have a goal! – but don’t feel badly if you only play to it 20-25% of the time.
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