The Hacker: Boosted by another shot in the arm as buffer zone approaches

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The Independent Online

Armed as I was with new-found confidence for the golfing challenges of 2009, it was a shock to receive a letter last week from my club's handicapping committee announcing that I've been given an extra shot for the new year.

From a playing handicap of 25, I am now raised to 26. Normally, a hacker should be happy with such a gift but I felt miffed. Hadn't they heard of my surge of inexplicable good play over Christmas, which included a net albatross? Didn't they know I'm on the edge of a major breakthrough in my game?

I didn't feel I needed any extra help. It's almost as embarrassing as an old lady offering to help see you across the road.

Then I read the letter again and realised that this didn't originate with the handicapping committee, who are normally a po-faced lot not renowned for their generosity. They were acting under orders from the Council of National Golf Unions (Congu), who have done sterling work in creating a unified handicapping system throughout the UK.

No one has done more for hackers. This was especially so last year when Congu ruled that higher handicappers should get the full differencein competitions, not justthree-quarters as previously.

Now clubs are required to make an annual review of handicaps in the light of a player's performances in monthly medals.

If he plays in five or more and fails to break par or reach the buffer zone – which is four above the standard scratch for the competition – in any of them, he is entitled to a review.

Since I haven't broken 100 in a medal in 10 years, and the only zone I reach is the old buffer zone, my club figured that I qualified for an extra shot. They are also required to give formal notice of the handicap change; hence the letter.

Terry, our lively match captain, is working hard to ensure the new system is fully complied with at the club, which is not easy, because some of the better players are reluctant to embrace concessions to the hackers.

I am sorry to disappoint them but I can see the top limit of 28 having to be increased in the future. Dozens of players I know have seen dramatic rises in their handicaps in recent years under the new system. Players once off 12 or 13 are now off 18 or more, and the more medals they fail in the higher they go.

In a couple of years the worst players will be squeezed up against the upper limit with nowhere to go.

But that's not the way I'm going. My unfaltering ambition is to reduce my handicap. My average medal score during the past few years is 108.32. I should be off 39, not 26. My first task is to play to my handicap, and that means knocking 13 shots off my medal rounds.

I may be an incurable optimist when it comes to my golf but I don't fool myself as to the size of the task ahead.

I'm playing my first competition under my new handicap this weekend in a fourball, with the best three scores on each hole to count.

I intend to make a major contribution, and the extra shot could make all the difference.