In Defense of Sandbagging
By bkuehn1952 on 8/11/10
We asked for readers to send in blog posts- and Brian Kuehn didn't disappoint. I don't know if I buy a word of it- but it's interesting, for sure!

Again, this was written by Brian Kuehn, a reader/follower/fellow oober and the opinions are 100% his and do not reflect those of oobgolf in anyway. Enjoy! I'm sure he's ready for your feedback.

I am working on a theory that the golf handicapping system was originally created to entice less skilled golfers into competitions so the more skilled golfers could fleece them. And like so many schemes, the handicap system has come back to haunt the scratch golfer. As we hacks have used it to level the playing field, accusations of "sandbagging" have become common. However, talk of "sandbagging" merely obscures the fact that the handicap system was designed by scratch golfers for their own benefit.

Years ago scratch golfers were getting tired of trading dollars among themselves. What they really wanted was to get Bobo, the member who rarely broke 80, to play with them. Bobo was long on money and short on talent. However, Bobo was not stupid. Why would he want to play a match with Chancey and his pro-like game? So the handicap system was invented.

First the system had to have a patina of fairness. Enter the statistician. Numbers can always be counted upon to fool the general public. Course rating and "differentials" were created. Then "slope" and "equitable stroke control" were added. A system based on number has to be fair, right?

The initial bit of sleight-of-hand was to create a number that measured one's "potential" ability rather than one's "actual" ability. A handicap is not an average of one's scores but an average of one's best scores. On the attached page are Chancey's and Bobo's scoring records for the latest handicap period. Chancey has a 1.4 index and Bobo a 7.2 index. If the two members enter a stroke play event, Chancey would be a "1" and Bobo a "7". Assuming Bobo and Chancey have results similar to their normal pattern, Bobo will to lose to Chancey 75% of the time. True, Chancey rarely shoots better than his handicap. However, he is a much better golfer and his bad days are not nearly as bad as Bobo's.

Naturally, Chancey did not like letting Bobo win even one in four events so "ESC" was invented. Equitable Stroke Control or "ESC" is just another tool for the scratch golfer to keep Bobo in his place. How often do you think Chancey takes worse than a double bogey? That's right, almost never. Chancey has mastery of his game and practices course management. Bobo has heard of course management and thinks it has something to do with the application of herbicides to kill weeds. There is almost never a month when he does not return to the clubhouse muttering, "I could have had my best score, a 73, except for those two triples." Unfortunately for Bobo, that 79 is going to be recorded as a 77. He can only take a double with his "7" course handicap. Of course, come tournament time he doesn't get to stop counting at double bogey. He plays with a handicap that has nothing worse than a double bogey recorded, yet his lack of ability makes a triple or worse a very real possibility in every tournament.

Anyone ever wonder where the ".96" factor comes from in the handicap equation? Think it is some mandatory statistical calculation? Nope, it is the equivalent of roulette's "0" and "00", a way for the low handicapper to further tilt the odds in their direction. The USGA calls it a "Bonus for Excellence" but all it really does is systematize the unlevel playing field. With the "Bonus for Excellence" and "ESC", Chancey is assured of winning closer to 80% of the time.

There are other tools that can be brought to bear against the hack tournament golfer. Ever seen a tournament where one plays at 90% or 80% of one's handicap? What is 80% of "1" when rounded off? That's right, "1". What 80% of "7"? You got it, "6". Bobo just lost another shot to Chancey. Another favorite is using the lowest index from the prior 12 months. Remember when Bobo had that hot streak last August and his handicap dipped to "6" for two weeks? Well, Bobo, you are playing with a "6" for the tournament, never mind that you have been at "7.5" or higher for the past 6 months. Oh, and did we mention we are using 80%? So you are now a "5". Good luck!

Recently Golf Digest and Dean Knuth, the "Pope of Slope", revealed that according to Dean's statistics, a "1" playing a "13", giving the "13" his full 12 shots, will win 74% of the time ("Golf Digest", September, 2010, "Advantage: Better Player"). I am certainly no math whiz but I take that as pretty good verification of my theory.

So what are we high handicappers to do? Fight back! Play when the course is soggy or there are 40 mph winds. Scrupulously apply the Rules of Golf to even your most casual round. In fact, learn the rules, they often will help you. Play out of divot holes and foot prints in the bunker. Putt everything out and count those backhanded misses. When the day of the tournament comes around and the conditions are perfect, all those miserable rounds in March and April, that created your 12 handicap, are going to pay off. While Chancey is melting down because his drive rolled into a sandy divot hole, you are comfortable playing that bunker shot from a moose hoof print; you've gotten it up and down from a lot worse.

Chancey is going to beat you more often than you will beat him. Still, there are going to be times when you will grind him into the ground. It will be then that Chancey will utter the best words a high handicapper can hear, "Bobo, you're a sandbagger." Just smile and count his money.

Note: the writer freely acknowledges he knows next to nothing about statistics and can barely add and subtract single digit numbers. The preceding analysis has enough factual errors and faulty analysis to be worthy of a political advertisement.

[ comments ]
DrLongballz says:
Brian should be a regular contributor
birdieXris says:
HAHAHA. nice article!!! The more i think about it, the more it's true. Well done scoping out that info!
lcgolfer64 says:
Nice work on this one, Brian. A good read!
aaronw409 says:
Mandelbaum! says:
Bobo and Chancey? Interesting choices, I must say. Nice write up; you make some compelling points. No tournaments for me though, so I guess I'll just keep battling Old Man Par.
Agustin says:
I completely agree with Brian that the hcp system favors better players. We have a group of 13 friends (see the Golfos group) with whom we play a yearly tournament (several rounds through out the year with a final round in Dec). To level the playing field we play Stableford and not stroke play, thus eliminating disaster holes. The low handicaps and the high handicaps have never won. It's alway been someone in the middle of the pack.
Banker85 says:
good article. I know i usually play a couple strokes above my handicap. My thinking is though a better player would be more consistent and shoot their handicap more often. Where someone like me 11 hcp rarely shoots to my hcp or even better less. So i guess your right i should try and inflate my hcp so i can beat better players and sandbag their a$$e$!
windowsurfer says:
Slope is a big factor here, right? How uniform, current and accurate are slope ratings, I wonder? Trees grow, conditions vary and who rates the raters? Bobo and Chancey both gain a pretty significant sandbag advantage (without necessarily trying to do so) if they build their handicap predominantly on a course that is underrated, slope-wise, and play on courses that are overrated. And of course, the reverse can be true too.
mmontisano says:
i once read that on average, everyone shoots 3 to 4 shots higher than their handicap.
tennesseeboy says:
Great article. @windowserver, I agree slope ratings are not very accurate. They should use scoring databases like oob to determine course difficulty. A bunch of statistics are being generated by a large number of golfers with different skill levels. Why not uses these statistics to determine course ratings?
windowsurfer says:
I think u have volunteered a good idea, tennesseeboy. Oobgolf shows Average Hole Difficulty (by tee) and Average Scores (by tee, per hole). 18-hole total score averages and fair score averages (each also by tee) might be a good addition ?
zeg says:
First of all, if you believe there are problems with the system, cheating is still not defensible. The honorable thing is to refuse to play under the system. Of course, I do recognize that the post was lighthearted..

Second, head-to-head there may be a bit of an advantage to the low-capper in stroke play, but in a tournament setting, you'd normally expect a higher handicapper to take the prize. The reason is that there are many more strokes available for a high-capper to drop when he has an abnormally good round. If you have enough players, someone is likely to have an anomalously good day, and odds favor a 25 handicapper to shoot 5 under his handicap a lot more than 2.

Also, the statistics are very different for match vs stroke play. From what I understand, odds are a lot more level in match play, though I don't have first-hand experience.
The Full Monty says:
@ bacaddy:

The 3-4 shots makes sense when you consider the handicap formula.

Remember the 96% referenced above for handicap calculation

If you're scores range between 80 and 100, as most do, then do the math.

4% of 80 is 3.2 and 4% of 100 is 4.+
onedollarwed says:
7.2 is pretty good!
cjgiant says:
I love the disclaimer at the end.

No system will be perfect, but I know using pure average has rarely worked for me in the light competitions with friends (read: not major money) who are worse than I am. Of course, I think giving my competitors strokes AND allowing them mulligans AND to treat lost balls as lateral hazards is my own damn fault.

I have a theory that the HC system was designed precisely as the writer indicates, a way to level the field a little but keep the advantage with the lower HC for tourney play. After all, the low-HC'er IS a better golfer. In gross play, the better player should win, should it not be true in net play (with less certainty)?

Now, if you are betting with a competitor, you can use whatever calculation you feel fair, i.e. use 115% of HC (which would favor the higher HC) if you want.
GreggScott says:
This is a great post BUT.... Brian missed the whole point!
The system is supposed to be messed up!
That promotes haggling over strokes on the first tee.... Some would say the best part of the game. I'd rather be lucky than good... but I would really rather be the best haggler who wins all the money! :-) Thanks for a great read!
edditude says:
I started the season on the usga handicap with a 22 index and lately i am now down to a 17 despite some of the higher scores i still put into it. I asked the club pro about it he says it is based on the 10 lowest scores in my last 30 rds.
They don't figure in any of the higher scores period.
Kickntrue says:
Edditude. If you're pro really told you 30 scores you may want to find a new pro. It's 20 scores.
Neo says:
Very entertaining! Love it.
davidhaney says:
FUNNY ...but oh so true!
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