The Quest For a Single Digit Handicap

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There are many and various definitions that define a “good” golfer.  Everything from a long, straight driver off the tee, to an imaginative and creative scrambler, to even someone who just looks good addressing the ball.


One definition most golfers would agree to is having a single digit handicap index; i.e., one that is 9.4 or below (since 9.5 is rounded up to 10 for tournament and competition purposes).

Golf Digest has an excellent article that describes what a 10-handicap golfer would typically shoot.  Of course, the difficulty of the course (its slope), and the course rating are also factors.  But according to the article and the USGA, the handicap rules keeper in the United States, a 10-handicap golfer will shoot, on average, between 82-88 on a course with a rating of 72.

Therefore, doing a little extrapolation, someone with a handicap of nine should shoot between 81-87 or so on a consistent basis.  I can do that.  I just need to start doing that.

My History

Shooting in the mid-80s was always a goal when I played, and for the last 3-4 years, more times than not, that is what I was able to do.  I had my career round four years ago when I had a 72 (with seven birdies) at the Arnold Palmer Course at Speidel at Oglebay Resort.  I had more rounds in the low 80’s and high 70’s than not.  However, the occasional 88 and 91 kept my handicap around 12.

Then we moved to Charlotte last year, and four wrinkles occurred.  First, the move and unpacking time during early summer last year just didn’t allow a lot of time for golf, at least during June and July.  Second, I had to find places to play and practice, and practice time was also at a premium.  Third, somewhere late last summer, just before my annual golf trip with the Oglebay Golf Club, my driver became wildly inconsistent (and Pinehurst and the Sandhills courses is not a great place for that to happen).  And fourth, every course was new.

More on that fourth point.  I’ve long contended that the USGA should have a method to incorporate two factors into a score being posted for handicap purposes:  A) The type of weather the round was played in.  Playing in the rain, or cold, almost always results in a score being higher than playing on a nice sunny 72 degree day.  B) Playing a new course, especially if playing with another person or persons who also have never played the course.  Regardless of yardage books and hole diagrams, there are ponds and clumps of trees and creeks that are unknown to a golfer playing a course for the first time.  Invariably these cause a score to be higher than on a course that is familiar.

And that’s what happened last year and into this year.  I was playing unfamiliar courses, with unfamiliar greens.  And many greens in this part of the world are bermuda, which are great in the Carolina heat, but learning to factor in and putt on bermuda grain is another learning curve.

The bottom line is that my handicap is now 14.

The Quest

As Lucy wisely points out, the fact you realize you have a problem means you are not too far gone.

I decided earlier this year to work toward getting my handicap down to single digits by the end of 2018.  As those of you who keep a handicap index well know, this is not a short-term process.  Even if I started scoring in the 70s tomorrow, it would take several of those rounds to knock out several of the 90s I was posting early in the year before my handicap would start to fall.

First Order of Business- My Driver

As I mentioned, my driver became wildly inaccurate last summer.  I’m pretty certain it wasn’t just one thing, it was a lot of little things.  First of all, my driver has never been my strong suit.  I played a lot of baseball, and later softball until I was in my mid-40’s.  The shoulder-focused power swing I used in softball is the antithesis of what a golf swing should be.  Losing it has been a decades-old challenge.

A few months ago, I visited Ken Guilford, Head Pro at Cabarrus Country Club in Concord, NC.  I simply said, “I need a lesson focused on nothing but the driver.”  His first observation was that I was aiming way right, and I mean WAYYY right.  So he squared me up, gave me some tips to shallow out my approach, and right now (mostly on the range, but still) I’m driving it better than I have in years.

Ben Hogan said, the most important club in the bag is the driver.  I believe that varies from golfer to golfer, but for me, it’s true.  When I’m hitting it in the fairway, I am 5-10 strokes better than when I’m not.

Second Order of Business- Putting

Specifically lag putting.  I’ve never been a great putter.  I do not have that “feel” that great putters have, and I believe you either have it or you don’t.  But mechanics and consistency are extremely important in putting.  Basics like striking the putt in the center of the putter, and being square to the line of the putt are critical.

I’ve been working on lag putting the most.  Eliminating three-putts starts with getting the first putt close enough that the second putt is automatic, or almost so.  I’ve been trying to insure that my uphill putts get to or past the hole.  Leaving them short has been a constant struggle I want to overcome.  So putting practice is mostly focused on uphill, long lag putts.  I am getting better at developing that feel for a long putt.  I’m not worried about making it, I’m focused on getting it to, or beyond, the hole.

Reading bermuda greens is another part of the challenge.  Having putts that are slower downhill than they are uphill due to the grain is a factor I’ve never contended with until moving here.  But as with anything, the more I play on them, the more I figure it out.

The Bottom Line

Very slowly, the index is beginning to drop.  It was 14.3 a few weeks ago and is now 13.9.  I haven’t shot over 88 in a while now.  And if I can bring that new driver swing from the driving range (I’m a driving range ninja, by the way) to the course, I feel confident the scores will get back to the low and mid-eighties.  And that will translate to a single digit handicap.

I’m tracking all of this in much greater detail in a journal.   If I am successful, it will become a book on specifically what I did, what worked and what didn’t, and how it might work for any other golfer who has the same goal in mind.

Thanks for reading, and enjoy Shooting Your Age!


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