We recently talked about the golf sandbagger, that notorious scoundrel who deliberately manipulates his handicap upwards in order to get more shots and win competitions with an unfair advantage. But did you know that the exact opposite also exists? There are probably just as many golfers who have a golf vanity cap as those whose handicap is higher than it should be.
The Lure of the Low Handicap
Having a low handicap is a pretty nice brag. Although I am far from scratch, it is nice when someone asks what I play off and I can say that I am a single figures golfer. Not great in the grand scheme of things, but certainly better than the vast majority of golfers who play the game.
I have certainly been guilty of chasing my handicap at some points in my golfing life too. If a round wasn’t getting my handicap lower, I had wasted my time. Single figures had to be 8 then 7 then 6. It was probably a pride thing, but also a real quest for improvement.
Nowadays, I don’t play many competitions because of this. I was only enjoying my time on the course when my scores would good. This put pressure on my game and, mental pygmy that I am, usually ended up with a snap hook out of bounds on the first tee and a grumpy playing partner for the front nine until I calmed down, realised I wasn’t going to get my handicap down today, decided to enjoy it, and went round in level par on the back nine!
regardless, at the end of the day, I handed my card in and it had an effect on my handicap. I wasn’t trying to manipulate anything and it was what it was.
The Vanity Capper
The golfer who carries a vanity cap goes further than this. His (and yes, it is usually us men) aim is to manipulate his handicap downward simply to have a level better than his actual one associated with his name.
This can be done in a few different ways, from the slightly unfair to the outright cheating. For example, this golfer will only hand in cards that have a good score. If the round is going terribly, he will suddenly feel a back spasm on the 15th tee and have to pull out. Perhaps he will decide not to hand in a particularly nasty card.
It can also be in the form of outright cheating. I used to play with a golfer who had a handicap of around 7 or 8 but I never saw him shoot anything like that when we played together. He could hit some good shots, but also far too many horrible ones, especially the occasional out of bounds or ball that disappeared into the thick rough.
Over time, a pattern emerged. When he played with his friends or with younger golfers, he scored very well. When he had someone who kept a closer eye on his card, not so much. With the good rounds, he would often miraculously find a ball in the undergrowth or somehow forget a shot here and there.
The funny thing was, he didn’t seem to be doing this to win competitions. He simply wanted the low handicap. In fact, he used his artificially low handicap to enter some very tough competitions with handicap limits where he would often shoot well into triple figures on hard course prepared for scratch or better golfers.
World Handicap System Playing Level
There is an interesting element to the new world handicap system that lets us calculate our playing level, a sort of unofficial handicap and it shows how we all like to think we are better than we really are. For this playing level, we simply put the friendly/non-official rounds into the calculator and it will give what out handicap would be if that were a true scoring round that counted for handicap.
I know quite a few golfers and I don’t no many that have a playing level that isn’t a shot or two (or five) lower than their actual handicap! This isn’t cheating as such, because this isn’t official and doesn’t count for anything. I do think that it shows that most of us perhaps are less than rigorous on what the real score is.
I know I have done this, although I don’t put this stuff into the playing level calculator. I can remember coming back from the course and thinking that I had played really well on my own and gone round in two over or whatever.
Then I thought a little bit about my round and realised that I wouldn’t actually have scored this if it had been in competition. For example, I often hit two balls off the tee or from somewhere else for practice. I don’t do it to cheat (after all, I am playing on my own, nobody cares what I score and my wife and kids certainly don’t want to know!) Maybe I had played the better ball without even thinking about it. Perhaps the two over in my mind was really 4 or 5, who knows?
The point is, even if wasn’t doing this to cultivate a vanity cap, I can definitely see where the vanity capper is coming from.
Does Handicap Have to Correspond to Ability?
Of course, not everyone who has a lower handicap than their level would suggest is trying to get a vanity cap either. Once again, I can attest to this from my own experience. My handicap had got to its lowest ever level somewhere below 7 from memory) and was sitting at its current 9.2 after a run of bad scores. This was around 4/5 years ago.
I then had a year without playing because of injury. When I started playing again, my handicap was perhaps 6 shots or more what it should have been. I could probably have asked to get it reassessed or simply played a few competitions at my new level and sees it shoot up, but I didn’t do this.
There was probably some vanity involved-it took me a while to get to single figures and I didn’t want to see it disappear quite so soon! However, I also felt like I could play my way back to this level and didn’t want to play any competitions any more anyway for the reasons above. If anyone asked my, I would give my handicap and simply say that I wasn’t really playing at that level anymore.
I did get back to my handicap level over a year or so and probably a bit better, but given that I wasn’t handing in cards, who knows? Perhaps I am sill just one of those vanity handicap golfers after all!