Handicaps and Headaches or Spreadsheets

I have a tip that can take five strokes off anyone’s golf game: it’s called an eraser. ~Arnold Palmer


To keep our yearly event fair and competitive, we have long used a handicap system.  We adjust our handicaps every year for the 3 games we play.  Ideally, it should give either team an equal chance to win every year.  In theory, it should also prevent long winning streaks, but that is not always the case.

How We Handicap

Let’s say your handicap for the current year is  -2 for stroke.  Then,  you win by 2 strokes with your actual score.   How do we determine handicaps for next year?

Determine the differential

Think of the differential as what you won or lost by including handicap.  In this case, after applying handicap, we would have won by 4 strokes.  Differential is positive number if you win and  negative if you lose.


Handicap (-2) + Actual (-2) = 4 This the differential.  With handicap, we won by 4.

We could just take that number and apply that to our current handicap.  (-2 ) + 4 = 2.  This would mean the handicap would swing from getting 2 strokes to giving up 2 strokes the following year.
We decided this put too much weight on the current year.  To normalize things we divide the differential by 2.  In this case:


Modified Differential 4 divided by 2 = 2

Now to establish handicap for next year, we take last year’s handicap (-2) and add the modified differential (+2) since we won actual.


-2 + 2 = 0, The handicap for next year would be 0.  In other words, we would play straight up.


Hopefully that wasn’t as painful to read as it was to write.  Doing things this way is a good method, but it is confusing.  Year after year, it always took us time to figure things out.  After a few arguments, several math problems, and a little trash talking, we would eventually get back to this method.

Let’s do one more example:

Stroke handicap (-2)
Actual (+3) – we lost by 3 and so with handicap lost by 1.
Differential (-2) + (+3) = 1
Modified:  Differential divided by 2 = -.5 (negative because we lost)
Next year handicap:  (-2) + (-.5) = -2.5


For years, we talked about needing a spreadsheet with formulas to calculate handicaps for the following year.   Although it was fun to argue and get confused every year about what the following years handicaps should be, it was time for a change.  Finally, a couple of years ago Andy came through with a spreadsheet for us.  Since then, win or lose we have a simple way forward.

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The Agony of Defeat

A wise man fights to win, but he is twice a fool who has no plan for possible defeat.  – Louis L’ Amour

August 16th, 2016 – Lindenwood Golf Club, Pittsburg PA

We couldn’t lose this year.  We were on a record 3-year losing streak.  In 2015, I played the absolute worse golf I have EVER played.  Rick played really well and all he needed was a little help from me.  We would have won, but  I couldn’t deliver.

We couldn’t lose.  After 27 holes, Rick and I were winning all 3 games outright.  Once we added in handicap, we had an insurmountable lead in 2 of the 3 games.  +17 in MMS, -7 Stroke, and +2 1/2 Match.  Only nine holes to go…

Gold Nine, Hole 5: 347 Yard Par 4

We were still looking great after the first 4 holes.  They had birdie on number 3, and we made par.  They could still win match but we had +14 on modified and -6 in stroke.  We could spot them a stroke on all the remaining holes and still end the streak and win the steak in 2017.  I could finally get the horrible taste of 2015 out of my mouth.

Andy put them on the right side of the fairway with a big drive.  Rick pulled his drive to the far left.  If he didn’t go into the trees, he was a muddy mess all along left tree line.  As I stepped up to the tee, Rick suggested that I aim right.  The advice was solid.  It was wide open to the right.  There is a fine line between confidence and foolishness.  We had this in the bag.  Simply avoid any major screw-up and we would win.

In a Tin Cup like moment, I aggressively aimed to the right side of the fairway when aggression was not needed.  Even on good drives, I usually had a fade.  This would be a good point to time that I golf left-handed.  The ball was clean and high off the tee, but the fade leaned more toward a slice.  It was clear.  I landed right in the middle of the junk on the left.  I was disgusted with myself as I walked off the tee.  I couldn’t look Rick in the eye as he asked about the plan to aim right.

Thinking about it, I’m wondering how on earth to describe just how nasty that area was off to the left.  It was so wild.  — Andy


If we could find one of our balls,  we would get a free drop out of this ground under repair.  The problem was that it was littered with golf balls.  Andy and Doug helped us search for about 5 minutes and then headed over to their ball in the fairway.  We lost more than our balls in that wasteland.

Andy would hit a short iron to 10 feet and Doug would sink the putt for a birdie.  After the lost ball penalty, we stumbled to a double-bogey.  A 3-shot swing and the door was officially ajar.

The Rest of The Story

I could get into the painful details of the remaining holes but that would be droning on about what you can sense was the inevitable.  We would continue to struggle over the next couple of holes with a bogey and double-bogey.  They would continue their strong play and finish out with pars.  We had a couple of chances to make it interesting down the stretch, including a couple near misses for birdie on number 9, but it wasn’t to be.  The match would end with an uninspiring bogey on the 37th hole.  They, of course, got par.

A day that was supposed to be a victory lap around the last 9 turned into our 4th loss in a row.  Now all we could do was wait for another chance in 2017…


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Are you trying to golf in all 50 states?  How many states have you conquered?  I would love to hear from you.

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The Betting Games & The Prize

It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.   – Mark Twain

Today is Super Bowl Sunday.  The Patriots and Eagles will battle for the rights to be named World Champions.   In my last post, Golfing 50 States Our Way,  the pinnacle of our golf event is a 2-man, 36 hole scramble.  This is our Super Bowl.   Our teams are always the same.  Rick and I vs. Andy and Doug.  It pains me to say that Doug and Andy lead the overall series 9-6 since starting the 36 hole format.  That being said, there is still a lot of golf to play and states to go…

The Betting Games

We play a standard 2-man scramble.  Both players hit and then the team determines which shot to play from next.  The team that won the prior year leads off on the 1st hole.  After that, lead off is determined by who won the last hole.  If it’s a tie, the order stays the same.   Pretty standard stuff.



Count the number of strokes from each team, including penalties for each hole and add them all together.  The lowest total score wins.


For each hole, the team with the fewest strokes wins.  If the hole is a tie, it’s a push.  Whoever wins the most holes wins.

Modified Modified Stableford

We added this 3rd game to reduce the chance of an overall tie, splitting stroke and match.  Unlike the other 2 games, this one needs further explanation:

  • Stableford – A scoring system awarding points based on the number of strokes taken at each hole.  Whoever has the most points after a round wins.
  • Modified Stableford – This system awards more points for lower scores and introduces negative points for high scores.

The following scoring has been used in professional golf:

PointsStrokes taken in relation to par
+8Albatross (3 strokes under par)
+5Eagle (2 strokes under par)
+2Birdie (1 stroke under par)
-1Bogey (1 stroke over par)
-3Double Bogey or worse (2 or more strokes over par)
  • Modified Modified Stableford – We further modified the Stableford game to adjust for our limited golf abilities.  If only we had more time to practice…
PointsStrokes taken in relation to par
-1Double Bogey
-3Anything worse


Playing this format of 3 different games adds to the fun, excitement and strategy of the scramble.  It also reduces the possibility of ending up in a tie.  In order to win the event, your team must win 2 of the 3 games above.

The Prize

We play for high steaks.  You may be thinking, doesn’t he mean stakes?  The answer to that question is a resounding NO.  We literally play for S-T-E-A-K.  The winners earn a full course steak dinner the following year from the losers.  We are old school.  There is a winning team and a losing team.  There are no participation trophies here.

Up Next

The Agony of Defeat


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