Tom Patri: Handicap system in need of major overhaul

The more I teach and coach, the more I feel the modern handicap system is a bit, well, shall we say, bogus. It really has very little to do with golf. Yes it may, I say may be a way for folks to play "at home" matches and try to equalize their skills, but little more.

What I mean is it has nothing to do with a measurement of one's playing ability. The day the USGA introduced / allowed equitable stroke control (ESC), was the day they set the game back 100 years.

Please allow me to explain. It happens every year. The qualifying for the club championship comes around and some guy whose handicap is 5 posts an 85 gross in the qualifying round, because all year: 1, he has never putted out (His buddy says "Bret, that's good, pick it up" when good old Bret has a 3-footer downhill, left to right. By the way, Bret can't get it in his pocket fast enough) , and 2, ESC says, for example, if your handicap is X, you can't take over this on any hole (we all are familiar with the formula ). The problem there is Bret, or whomever, never really learns to problem solve, or how to manage the course. When a risk/reward situation comes into play, Bret goes for it because, ESC always protects his back door except when it is time to play real golf.

Houston, we have a problem, because now Bret or whomever has no safety net and has to play for real. You see, golf involves holing out (that means in the bottom of the jar). It means managing the course, and problem solving. The USGA has promoted the amateur, recreational golfer bypass the learning process, never to really learn to play golf as it was meant to be played. That's actually really sad, because the real game is actually a great challenge and quite fun to attempt to master.

May I be so bold as to make a suggestion? Keep your home course handicap for club events and fun matches with your friends. Fine. But tomorrow start an Excel spreadsheet of all your gross scores (finish every hole, as the Rules of Golf state you should), and tally monthly, and create a scoring average. Then if you are not happy with that number, maybe sit down, and counsel with your PGA Professional, and create a game plan for "real golf improvement." The goal is to make you truly able to score under any and all conditions. Imagine that, real golf. You will feel a real sense of accomplishment, not a false sense of, well let's say, pretend golf.

The USGA really needs to revisit this topic; it is truly not in the best interest of the amateur golfer, and the game itself. Old Tom Morris is rolling over in his grave.

Tom Patri's teaching academy has moved to Lely Resort, with an indoor studio open at The Health Club of Naples on Immokalee Road. Patri is one of Golf Magazine's Top 100 Teachers in America. He can be reached at To set up a lesson, contact Brandi Hanson at 597-0787 or e-mail, or go to

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