Supporting and promoting golf in Northern California

Fit to a ‘T’

With the heart of the tournament season in full swing, now is the perfect time to review the many aspects of the T-score reduction process and dispel a few myths.

The most important point to remember is that an NCGA/USGA Handicap Index is supposed to represent a golfer’s “potential” ability, not his actual, current or average ability.

“Potential,” for these purposes, is identified by an examination of a golfer’s top 10 performances of their 20 most recent rounds, AND, by a comparison of this best 10 of 20 calculation with the two best T-scores recorded within the past 12 months (longer for golfers who play fewer than 20 rounds per year).

Specifically, it is the “gap” between the best 10 of 20 figure and two lowest T-scores that is examined. If the T-scores are sufficiently low, additional calculations are made which factor in the size of the gap and the total number of T-scores recorded within the past 12 months. The calculations can call for an automatic reduction of the best 10 of 20 figure.

One of the cornerstones of the reduction process is the following table. It charts the odds of a golfer teeing it up and playing to or outplaying his handicap (i.e., recording a net score equal to or lower than the Course Rating). The values in the table are the odds of shooting a net differential EQUAL TO OR BETTER THAN the number in the left column.

Odds Table

Handicap Index Ranges
Net Diff 0-5 6-12 13-21 22-30 >30
0 5/1 5/1 6/1 5/1 5/1
-1 10/1 10/1 10/1 8/1 7/1
-2 23/1 22/1 21/1 13/1 10/1
-3 57/1 51/1 43/1 23/1 15/1
-4 151/1 121/1 87/1 40/1 22/1
-5 379/1 276/1 174/1 72/1 35/1
-6 790/1 536/1 323/1 130/1 60/1
-7 2349/1 1200/1 552/1 229/1 101/1
-8 20111/1 4467/1 1138/1 382/1 185/1
-9 48219/1 27877/1 3577/1 965/1 359/1
-10 125000/1 84300/1 37000/1 1650/1 874/1

It should come as no surprise that playing to one’s handicap is an uncommon event. After all, a golfer’s worst 10 of 20 rounds are thrown out entirely and normally only 4 of the best 10 meet or better the standard. In short, a golfer only has around a 1 in 5 chance of playing to or better than his handicap.

Depending on handicap level and frequency of play, shooting five strokes under one’s handicap can be a once-a-year or even once-a-decade kind of occurrence. It’s these types of scores that can trigger an automatic reduction.

Now let’s clear up some of those misunderstandings in the form of a Q & A.

Q: Is the NCGA the only association calculating handicaps in this manner?

A: Every single handicap in the country is computed in this exact manner.

Q: Should all tournament scores be posted with a T?

A: No. The NCGA recommends that the T not be applied to routine weekly or monthly events of little significance. Flooding a golfer’s record with such T-scores will reduce the effectiveness of the process and make it more difficult to identify those golfers who save their best play for the most important tournaments.The T should be reserved for significant events that pack the greatest prestige or prizes, such as annual events, club championships, member/guests, NCGA qualifiers, etc. This includes individual, partnership and team events. Ask yourself the following question: If you felt your club had a problem with some members who were inclined to “massage” their handicaps, which tournaments would they gear themselves up for? These are the tournaments that need the T.

Q: Will one low T-score trigger a reduction?

A: No. Every golfer is entitled to their best round of the year. It’s when two odds-defying rounds occur in a 12-month period that the additional calculations are triggered.

Q: Is a golfer’s Index “frozen” at the reduced level?

A: No. A fresh calculation is made each month. As the gap between the best 10 of 20 figure and two low T-scores moves and the total number of T-scores from the past 12 months changes, the Index can change.

Q: How long will the reduction remain in place?

A: Normally, when one of the T-scores expires (becomes more than 12 months old), the reduction is lifted.

Q: How come some reductions don’t take effect until months after the T-scores were recorded?

A: Remember, the first step in the process is the best 10 of 20 calculation. The gap between this figure and the two low T-scores will remain narrow as long as the T-scores are among the 20 most recent rounds. In many instances, it is not until they work their way out of the most recent 20 that the gap widens and a reduction kicks in.

Q: I just seem to concentrate better in tournaments and produce lower scores. Why should I be penalized?

A: Baloney! The System is based on the concept that a golfer is going to attempt to score his very best on every hole of every round played. It does not contemplate a golfer who can call upon a “higher gear” at will. The problem with the logic of such a golfer is that they want their handicap based on the higher scores, which would give them a distinct advantage over the rest of the field when they call upon their “A” game. Why do such golfers object to an Index that reflects this “A” game?

Q: My game goes bad in the winter and peaks in the summer. Why should I be penalized?

A: Such a golfer would have a distinct advantage over the field when his game turns around. Without a reduction, his handicap will be at its highest level just in time for the lower scores. Again, a Handicap Index is supposed to represent a golfer’s potential ability. Has such a golfer’s potential changed that much, or are they just off their game for a short period of time? The answer should be obvious.

Q: Shouldn’t the golfer’s Index at the time the T-score was recorded be factored in?

A: Absolutely not! What a golfer’s Index was at the time of the round has no bearing on pegging their potential ability.

Q: Does an R next to an Index indicate that the golfer is a sandbagger?

A: The System certainly catches its fair share of baggers, but the R should not be perceived as a scarlet letter. It’s merely an indication that the golfer has exhibited a greater potential ability than their best 10 of 20 figure would imply.

Q: I recently had some major surgery, which has severely impacted my game. Some pre-surgery T-scores are causing a reduction.What can I do?

A: Clearly these are exceptional circumstances and a reduction is not appropriate, but the calculations don’t know this. Contact your club’s Handicap Committee. It is the one and only authority that can intervene on a golfer’s behalf. If it feels there are medical circumstances that warrant action, they can instruct the NCGA to “override” the reduction and restore the best 10 of 20 figure. Such a request must be submitted in writing to the NCGA Handicap Department.

Requests for an override for any other sort of reason requires further explanation. After all, by issuing an override a club is proclaiming that this particular golfer’s Index should be computed in a different manner than that of every other golfer in the country. That is a quite a proclamation! I can’t tell you how many clubs I’ve seen that have put an override in place only to regret it. I’ve seen golfers secure an override from a sympathetic committee member for no valid reason only to shoot more low T-scores as soon as the reduction has been lifted. Such clubs have a lot of explaining to do to the rest of the golfing community.

In conclusion, at this point in time, less than 1 percent of NCGA members have a T-score reduction in effect. That very fact should open up a club’s eyes to how extraordinary the T-scores are. Two once-a-decade scores in a 12-month period in important tournaments are too much!

Director of Course Rating and Handicapping Jim Cowan can be e-mailed at

Author: Jerry Stewart

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