The Hacker: Fighting for scraps at the lower end of the food chain

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The Independent Online

My esteemed colleague Peter Corrigan has highlighted the furore that has developed since golf's governing body Congu decreed that matchplay competitions should be played off full handicap difference.

The debate in the women's section at my own club has proceeded along party lines; the good players muttering darkly about not entering competitions and the bad ones rising to the summer's challenge by rereading the instruction manual, particularly the section under the heading "Hints on lining up your fourth putt".

The knee-jerk reaction is to assume that every hacker is, per se, a bandit. But while of course it can be argued that the removal of the weighting in favour of lower handicappers means that there is even less room for error on the part ofthe crack, and that the removal of the advantage could be seen as a disincentive to improve,the reality of the situation isthat high-handicappers playoff our apparently generous marks because we are,basically, incompetent.

Take the 15th at Gorleston last week. The occasion was the first round of the deathless annual clash of the titanesses that is the county inter-club knockout competition for the 21-30 handicap division. It is played Solheim Cup-style, foursomes in the morning, singles in the afternoon, but Annika we ain't.

On a par five, despite a horribly thinned five-wood that entered a fairway bunker like an Exocet and rocketed up the face and out with (I'd swear) a triple rotation in pike position, I found myself 20 yards from the green with my opponent deep in trouble in calf-high rough.

It was, one might say, an open hole. And like a true Sunday park hoofer, I scuffed the ball 15 yards forward. Another feeble chip and it struggled on to the green. Three more to get down, including a missed two-footer to go two up, but at least it didn't cost me as much as it did Robert Karlsson at Wentworth last Sunday. My long-suffering chum Viv, a 15-handicapper who was acting as faithful caddy, had long since lost the will to live but, with extreme forbearance, did not slit her wrists on the spot.

Low-handicappers, even Karlsson, should not worry. Sure, the odd hacker has his or her day in the sun, but better golfers mostly play to a higher standard, actual and relative, than worse golfers. It is much easier to drive for show than putt for dough.

Those of us towards the amoeba end of the food chain know it is a delusion that our handicaps represent normal golf, rather than the way we play perhaps twice a year, given a following wind down a summer-baked fairway. The boffins at Congu know it too, and calculate that a mid 20-something player averages seven over nett par. Only in our dreams.

So when the rare chance to reduce comes, you expect it to count. I was one under in this month's Stableford, but did not shift, because another competitor chose that day to have an epiphany and the standard scratch score moved.

I have no problem with not winning; I did not post the best score. But I did beat the course and feel slightly aggrieved that Congu decree that the way other people play should have an impact on my handicap.