First up, a tip of the cap to Alan Bastable from golf.com for uncovering this one. He recently drew attention to the flip side of the number that defines our proficiency in this game by giving life to the term ‘anti-handicap’.
What is an anti-handicap? Think of it as the figure revealed by your non-counting scores. Under the World Handicap System, which launched in those long-ago, pre-COVID days of January 2020, our handicaps are calculated using the best eight scores from your 20 most recent competition rounds. Your anti-handicap puts the other 12 scores under the microscope.
Why on earth, you might ask, would you want to do that? It’s an entirely valid question. For me, it’s because I find the sea of numbers that surround our sport endlessly fascinating. Not everything in golf (or life) that counts can actually be counted, but in a game where numbers rule, I want to know what’s behind all of them. And the crux of the anti-handicap is that it reveals how you play when you’re not at your best, which – let’s face it – for most of us is most of the time. Or, as long-time Golf Digest editor Bob Carney put it way back in 1988, it’s a measure of the “shakiness quotient”.
There’s another reason, too. There’s merit in knowing the anti-handicaps of the guys you play with as it’s a sign of their value as best-ball partners because, as Bastable points out, not all players with the same handicaps are created equal. The difference between a golfer’s real and anti handicaps tells you how consistent and therefore reliable they are. Bastable theorises that a gap of five indicates a commendable level of consistency but a double-digits difference does not.
One of the best features of Golf Australia’s new handicap app is that you can monitor your friends’ handicaps. I have 12 saved, not counting my own, so I decided to calculate the anti-handicap for each of them. The dozen handicaps range from 5 to 22, which offered a good spread. I did the maths then compared the anti-handicap of all 12 against my non-numerical perceptions of their games.
My mate Pete was the one I was most curious about. He plays off 4.9 and plays a lot (and I mean a lot. His scores reveal 20 competition rounds played in July alone – think about that for a moment) but I have always thought of him as a consistent golfer. Surprisingly, his anti-handicap turned out to be 12.7, nearly eight shots more than his actual mark. Of the dozen, only two of my mates produced a higher differential and one of them, Chris, doesn’t play very often (of his 20 most recent rounds, the 20th came in December 2019).
This bit of forensic accountancy also revealed I should avoid being paired with my mate Dave (handicap 17.0, anti-handicap 25.6; difference 8.6) in best-ball matches. The best of the 12 was Marty (handicap 6.7, anti-handicap 11.0; difference 4.3). In both those cases the numbers did bear out my pre-calculation suspicions: Marty is super-consistent while Dave is anything but.
Of course, then it came time to turn the spotlight onto my own handicap. I’m not prone to huge deviations in my handicap (I’ve never been ‘soft-capped’) and it has drifted out in recent years, but only gradually. My summation has always been: across any 10 rounds, I’ll probably have six that are average-to-bad, two that are decent, one complete shocker and one where I break my handicap and probably undo all the ‘damage’ of the poor rounds. So what was my anti-handicap? My real one is 8.4 and my anti turned out to be 13.2, so just a touch below that five-shot differential, which among my regular playing partners left me behind only Marty in the consistency stakes. I’ll take that.
You might not be as curious or as numerically inclined as I am, but if you go through the same exercise you might get a window into your own golf game and the “shakiness quotient” of those who you play with regularly.
Featured photo by istock.com/BGWalker