The Hacker: Good players are still the big winners in this numbers racket

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The Independent Online

The phrase "Never give a sucker an even break" was probably coined by a gangster in Chicago, but I am horrified to find that it has been adopted by low-handicap golfers not only at my club but all over the country.

One of the harsh realities of life as a hacker is that the better players are a little sniffy about us. They enjoy the gaiety our antics bring to the club and are happy to partner us because of the big contribution we make to the combined handicap. But when it comes to playing against us they tend not to be so keen, because the disgrace of losing to a hacker can last a long time – certainly the hacker is not likely to let them forget it.

Recently, the chances of this happening have increased, with the introduction of a new rule governing the number of shots the low-handicapper has to give his opponent. Whereas the allowance had always been three-quarters of the difference between the two handicaps, it is now the full difference, and the top players don't like it.

I didn't realise the extent of this dislike until somebody in the club bar on Thursday night said that most of our first-team players haven't entered the club's singles knockout tournament, because they object to giving so many shots away.

When I poured scorn on such action a two-handicapper retorted: "If I was drawn against you I'd have to give you 22 shots." Since it's been a long time since I actually played to my handicap of 24, I suggested this would hardly be a suicide mission for him.

Then a one-handicapper came in and agreed it was unfair to have to give so many shots. So I did some research later on and I've got news for them. If they go to (Congu is an organisation comprised of the national golf unions in the UK ) they will find that intensive research on both sides of the Atlantic has revealed that to make it entirely fair the allow-ance should be one-and-a-quarter times the difference. Congu are not recommending this, but use it to refute the allegation that the new allowance is unfair. That low- handicappers are not entering club knockouts because the odds are against them is "nonsense", they say.

The facts prove that the three-quarters rule gave the better players a huge edge, and all that has happened is that the odds in their favour have been changed from "enormously favourable" to "favourable but not actually unfair".

What grieves me is that, without the handicap system, golf clubs would be nothing like as flourishing and competitive as they are. In no other game can the meek meet the mighty on more or less equal terms. If you belong to a club you shouldn't regard it as beneath you to play a fellow member, whatever his handicap. To those who spend a lifetime losing gracefully, the chance of occasional glory is not too much to ask.

I have long contended that if all hackers – those with handicaps over 15, say – decided to stop playing, most clubs would find it a financial struggle to keep going. We are a necessary evil, but when it comes to knockout tournaments we apparently become an evil that is totally unnecessary.