The Hacker: Golf has its own holey row as editor presses me on new rule

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The Independent Online

At clubs throughout the country, the better golfers are suffering from the new edict that in matchplay the lower handicapper must now give the full difference in handicap to his opponent. Whereas before he had to give only three-quarters of the difference, he now has to give the lot. It may be only a couple of shots in most cases, but the extra allowance is tilting the balance in favour of the higher handicapper.

We hackers would claim that it needed tilting, but the protests of the victims are getting clamorous – and one has come winging its way from my editor-in-chief. I didn't get where I am today by upsetting my bosses so I listened to his peevish account of losing a match on the 18th which he would have won under the old rule. His point was that his opponent played slightly better than his 18 handicap and he played about the same, but the full allowance was the difference.

This is not an isolated complaint. I'm hearing it within my own club, quite forcibly at times, and it is even affecting the hackers who suddenly find themselves in the unaccustomed position of winning.

Roy Mitchell, who plays at Wyke Green in Middlesex, writes: "Having recently beaten a six-handicapper in my club's open championship off my full allowance as a 22-handicapper, you'd think I'm rather chuffed with the new rule. But I'm notso sure.

"My gracious opponent allowed that I had played very well, but he relayed to me how a friend of his playing off three had to play a very high handicapper and only just scraped through. He said the sight of his opponent topping his ball down the fairway of a par-four three times and still halving the hole brought tears to his eyes."

This is the reason that low- handicappers are loath to enter singles knockout competitions. I know of a two-handicapper at a club in Oxfordshire who enters but doesn't hold out much hope. Playing against single-figure handicappers is fine, but against those with handicaps in themid-teens he suddenly feelshe is fighting a losing battle.

It is by far the chief topic at my club, and because I've been writing about it in this space I seem to be held personally responsible. During an argument in our bar on Thursday night I was accused of promoting mediocrity. While I admit to a lifetime of practising mediocrity, I deny promoting it, but this is an argument that seems certain to mushroom.

Meanwhile, the search continues for the origin of the three-quarters rule. Congu, the governing body who have introduced the full allowance, can't discover where the fraction of three-quarters came from in the first place. The consensus seems to be that it stems from an unwillingness to see anyone getting more than one shot a hole. Three-quarters of the then top handicap of 24 is 18, and so that's the figure.

Jonathan Hoffman had it explained to him in 1956 by the great Harry Weetman, but I haven't got space for it. Neither can I give full vent to his interesting theory about shots being given at the hardest holes when they should be given at the easiest. I'll come back to it, but I'm in enough trouble already.