Handicaps and Course Difficulty

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GBOGEY
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Handicaps and Course Difficulty

Post by GBOGEY » Tue Sep 18, 2018 8:08 pm

So I've been thinking about this a lot lately with the move. Since I play a lot of different courses, I use my handicap to judge how well I'm playing - I actually use an average differential of all my rounds more than my actual handicap. Anyway, this could be a whole different discussion, but since I've played a lot of courses I've thought a lot about course ratings - generally I think that course ratings are somewhat accurate although I saw one notable exception. But if a score of 80 equals a differential of 8 on one course and 10 on the other, generally the first course is about 2 shots harder.

So my old main course had a rating of 70.2/128 on a par 71, so medium hard. I usually averaged around 80 there, so a differential of 8.7. The course I've played the most since moving is 68.8/114 on a par 70, so somewhat easy. This is a little more than 2 shots easier than the old course. So far I'm averaging a little better than 78 there, so things make sense.

This is where I'm puzzled - my goal for the old course was to improve a shot, so average 79, but I actually believed that maybe 2 shots was possible although I've stayed at the same level for 3 years. Seems pretty doable given that I averaged 9 over par and always felt like I was throwing away 3-4 shots per round.

On the new course, however, improving 1-2 shots seems really difficult. I mean I'm already shooting 8 over par so I'd have to really limit errors to get there.

Does this make sense at all, that it might be easier to improve on a difficult course than an easier one?

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Re: Handicaps and Course Difficulty

Post by sjduffers » Tue Sep 18, 2018 9:09 pm

The problem with harder courses is that a small mistake is sometimes really penal, so when you are saying that you were throwing 3-4 shots per round, it could mean for example a shot into a hazard that was avoidable with better course management or 2-3 putts that were avoidable by targeting a better portion of the green (if greens have multiple tiers for example). With some diligence, those things can be managed.

However, on an easier course, you are already avoiding the hazards (or they are not score-wrecking ones), or you can already avoid 3-putts fairly easily because there are much less undulations on the greens. In other words, since you still have to get the ball into the hole, but you may have already picked the low-hanging fruits, there may be less room to go lower on these easier courses. Weird, huh?
I'm gonna go low this time...

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Re: Handicaps and Course Difficulty

Post by DougE » Wed Sep 19, 2018 9:22 am

GBOGEY wrote:
Tue Sep 18, 2018 8:08 pm

Does this make sense at all, that it might be easier to improve on a difficult course than an easier one?
For me, it has seemed that way, but probably for different reasons.

My old course was rated at 133 slope from the blues. My present course is 137 from the blues. I went from playing a very tough home course to an even tougher one, yet my handicap started to drop shortly after I joined the new place, almost three years ago. Somehow, I got better playing a tougher course even though I got older. Maybe this place fits my eye better.

Playing and practicing every day likely helped. You find things that click and have time to work on them out on the course in a real world environment, not just the range. Playing with new people seemed to help as well. When I started here, it was a fresh slate. No baggage. New attitude. New opportunities. That gave me a new found freedom with my swing, I think.

The golfers who frequent better courses are usually better as a whole. I found that to be true here. Consequently, you live up to what's around you. I would guess that my old club had an average member handicap of around 14-15. That's a pretty good average. I would bet that this new club's membership average is closer to 12. You play with better people, you get better by osmosis. So that helped me too.

To that point, I hang out on the range and practice with really good players, some well below scratch (+2-+3) handicappers to 6 or 7 indexers. They are mostly in their teens and 20s. I'm presently at 6.4 and the old fart in the bunch. I can't hit the ball as far as them, or even close, but we all compete in little games against each other on the range or short game areas. Over time, I have sharpened my skills by playing these little challenges with them. I have picked up a lot, just by watching them and being around them. Some of these kids will go on to play high-level golf in college and there are a few who could go farther IMO. I'm jealous, but thankful for the opportunity to practice alongside them and be treated as one of the "players club."

I got here three years ago with somewhere around an 11 handicap index. As mentioned, I am presently at 6.4 officially, but have been as low as 6.1. I have definitely benefited by being here. I feel like a real player now.....well, most of the time. Of course I can still easily look like a 20-handicapper when things go unexpectedly awry and everything gets slightly out of sync.

At my age, I don't really see how my index can get much lower. As the body breaks down, so does the game, in theory. But, then again, I was old when I got here and and am 3 years older and more decrepit now, yet somehow I am playing at the best level I have ever played in my golfing life, and at a course much more difficult than most. I know this can't last much longer, but I am enjoying the ride while it does. In the meantime I continue to work on my game at this very tough course, play with good players and keep my body as flexible as possible. If I could afford it, I'd have a dedicated coach. But, I can't.

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Re: Handicaps and Course Difficulty

Post by jasonfish11 » Wed Sep 19, 2018 10:23 am

So I'm not sure where I fall in this category, but there are many people that say for better players playing an easier course is better for your handicap to travel.

The theory is once you get to a certain level of physical capabilities, your brain has a way of making sure you keep your scores consistent. So if you are use to shooting 72 at a goat pasture you will likely shoot 72 at other courses. Where as if you are use to shooting 75 at oakmont you will likely shoot 75 at other places. Because your brain has a way of focusing more if you are over your "average" and becoming too complacent if you are below that average. So your end results tend to be around your average regardless of the difficulty of the course.

I haven't looked into the data behind this, so I don't know if I agree with it or not.
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Re: Handicaps and Course Difficulty

Post by GBOGEY » Wed Sep 19, 2018 2:48 pm

jasonfish11 wrote:
Wed Sep 19, 2018 10:23 am
So I'm not sure where I fall in this category, but there are many people that say for better players playing an easier course is better for your handicap to travel.

The theory is once you get to a certain level of physical capabilities, your brain has a way of making sure you keep your scores consistent. So if you are use to shooting 72 at a goat pasture you will likely shoot 72 at other courses. Where as if you are use to shooting 75 at oakmont you will likely shoot 75 at other places. Because your brain has a way of focusing more if you are over your "average" and becoming too complacent if you are below that average. So your end results tend to be around your average regardless of the difficulty of the course.

I haven't looked into the data behind this, so I don't know if I agree with it or not.
Funny but I read something similar just yesterday about how most PGA pros grew up on courses that weren't over the top hard (as opposed to being members of places like Shinnecock) and they attribute some of the success to learning how to make birdies since you have to make birdies to be successful at elite levels. I can also relate on a different level - on my old course I new 8-9 GIRs put me into position to get a score in the usual range. On the new course, I probably need 9+ GIRs to get there but it is really hard to adjust my thinking that I can consistently have more than 9 GIRs.

Some of SJ's stuff really hit home as well - I don't have a lot of stats yet at the new course yet, but from what I do I'm pretty consistently a little more than 2 strokes better than the old course. I can pretty easily account for those strokes with playing a par 70 instead of 71 AND I am clearly making more birdies and less 2DB's to the tune of net one stroke per round. So yes, I'm probably already getting some of the low hanging fruit already and it seems tougher to get more.

The other issue is likely more mental - it is pretty easy for me to think that I can turn 2DB's in bogeys or bogeys into pars - it's much more difficult to imagine turning more pars into birdies. I don't know why - I think it's just amateur golfer mentality where I probably give luck too much credit for my birdies and don't give myself enough credit. I don't know how to change that.

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Re: Handicaps and Course Difficulty

Post by jasonfish11 » Wed Sep 19, 2018 3:32 pm

I think I might try this thought out over the next couple of rounds. I can go play honey bee, which is the par 70 course where I pulled all my woods out of my bag and shot 76 the day after shooting 94 playing with a friend.

It's a simple course with 4 par 5's all of which are short (I reached the par 5 10th 4i/4i before) and 6 par 3s. There are 2 or 3 tough par 4s on the course but there are also 2 that I can drive the green on.

I wonder what happens if I play it 3 or 4 times, then go play VB National.
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Re: Handicaps and Course Difficulty

Post by sjduffers » Wed Sep 19, 2018 8:21 pm

GBOGEY wrote:
Wed Sep 19, 2018 2:48 pm
The other issue is likely more mental - it is pretty easy for me to think that I can turn 2DB's in bogeys or bogeys into pars - it's much more difficult to imagine turning more pars into birdies. I don't know why - I think it's just amateur golfer mentality where I probably give luck too much credit for my birdies and don't give myself enough credit. I don't know how to change that.
Yup, you are selling yourself short. To make birdies you have to get the ball close to the hole on approach or make long putts. The latter may be more luck, but the former is definitely more skill.

And then, there are birdie holes: short par 5s that you get on in 2 or really close for a good chance at an up-and-down if you leave the ball in the right place, or the short par 4s (same thing: either get on in one or close and get up and down). Those are basically what the course gives you, some courses have them and some don't, but those don't necessarily translate in higher course or slope ratings: it's harder to go low on those courses...
I'm gonna go low this time...

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GBOGEY
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Re: Handicaps and Course Difficulty

Post by GBOGEY » Wed Sep 19, 2018 11:30 pm

sjduffers wrote:
Wed Sep 19, 2018 8:21 pm
And then, there are birdie holes: short par 5s that you get on in 2 or really close for a good chance at an up-and-down if you leave the ball in the right place
One thing that is very true about my new course is the par 5s are much more routine - don't want to curse myself but I really shouldn't have much more than an easy wedge in on 2 of them and am usually around the green on the third. Good opportunity for routine pars although I have found a way to mess up two of them several times.

Determined today it was partly mental - I decided that going forward on my new "easier" course I need to target 10+ GIR's as a good day, not 9. So I went out to play 9 at the other muni in the area that I like - similar slope and rating - and told myself 5 GIR's per 9. Had 6 on the front. Then on 9 I hit my approach to 10 feet with a downhill slight slider coming up. Decided that if I wanted to make more birdies, that I just needed to make putts like this one so I went ahead and made the putt. Even par front 9, ended up +2 over 14 holes with 8 GIR's before darkness came - would have been 9 GIRs if I had known the course better.

I will say it does wonders for your confidence to play courses like these.

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Re: Handicaps and Course Difficulty

Post by jasonfish11 » Thu Sep 20, 2018 6:59 am

One thing to think about. If you are having a good round do you feel you get conservative in an attempt to not mess it up?

I know many people like this. I'm not sure why but I'm the complete opposite. If I'm playing well I get much more aggressive. I start taking on more flags, laying up isn't in my vocabulary (assuming I have some reasonable chance at pulling it off). I feel when I'm swinging well I'm much more likely to pull off harder shots, so these are the days to go after them. But I also am ok making the turn at +1 then shooting +6 on the back. Mainly because I'm trying to beat my personal best, and I'm not trying to beat it by 1 stroke, I'm trying to destroy it.

Maybe that isn't the right thoughts, but I laugh when people get conservative then shoot 1 or 2 over their personal best. My thoughts are they'll never improve with that strategy.
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Re: Handicaps and Course Difficulty

Post by GBOGEY » Thu Sep 20, 2018 10:31 am

jasonfish11 wrote:
Thu Sep 20, 2018 6:59 am
One thing to think about. If you are having a good round do you feel you get conservative in an attempt to not mess it up?
Probably, but not in the way that you are thinking. I think when I'm playing well I tend to try to be too careful with my swing - this results in what I call "the lefts" - lots of hooks and some bladed wedges. Both are a result of coming inside the line on my back swing. Last Sunday prime example - even par through 9. Really only one bad shot the entire front nine and I followed that up with a really nice recovery shot that just rolled out to far to have a reasonable 2 putt. Then first 4 holes on the back - 3 lefts and one bladed wedge and I'm +6. Settle myself and went -1 rest of the way. But as far as pin seeking, I'm pretty much the same no matter what although if I am behind my pace, say +6 after 9, I might be more aggressive trying to get a birdie to get back on pace.

I'm just looking to shoot good scores. I really don't think about improving on my best score although I might late in a round if I were to get close. My old course taught me that. It was pretty easy to DB holes 13-17 even though 2 of them were under 330 yards. I didn't know I was going to pull off my best two scores ever until I birdie 16 and 17 on those rounds, so you were always wary.

My play has been interesting this year. I've been amazingly consistent - that's good. My official rounds are in a very tight range. But I haven't gone lower than usual - usually happens 2-4 times per summer - although I've also had fewer blow up rounds. I feel like my swing is the best it's ever been - I'm hitting more GIRs and my driving seems much improved. I don't know whether its the extreme southern heat or bermuda grasses or what, but my distance has been really good off the tee. But my scores aren't any better with at least part of it being that my short game is worse than usual. I feel that the way I'm swinging I should be improving - trying to think through the how and why to get there.

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Re: Handicaps and Course Difficulty

Post by GBOGEY » Sun Sep 23, 2018 11:01 am

Got my wish on Saturday - both went low and had a blow up in the same round. On a difficult course with difficult conditions, +2 38 on the front with a DB. Given the course and conditions, probably about a good a 9 ever. Then +10 46 on the back, with +8 on last 5 holes. Swing totally left me with penalty strokes, bad drives, etc. Came off course totally flustered as to how it fell apart.

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