The Hacker: I'm not making allowances, high handicappers call the shots

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The Independent Online

My recent complaint about better players refusing to enter singles knockout competitions at their clubs because they begrudge the number of shots they have to give to higher handicappers brought an indignant response as I sat sampling a pint in the club bar last week. "Why should we enter competitions we haven't got a chance of winning?" I was asked by a peeved top player.

As someone who for more than 30 years has been entering competitions with only a slender chance of finishing above even the bottom 10, I wasn't at my most sympathetic.

As it happens, I have won a couple of events, but that was due more to the law of averages than any lasting surge of form. My distressing sequences of failure, however, have never doused my optimism enough to stop me entering competitions.

If all hackers refused to enter on the grounds of unlikely victory scenarios, there would be hardly anyone entering – and a vastly reduced pot of money for the good players to share.

The cause of disgruntlement is the new edict that in match-play competitions full handicap allowance must be given instead of three-quarters.

Assessments of scores in club competitions both here and in the US have revealed that the three-quarters allowance was "enormously favourable" to the lower handicapper. Full allowance is still favourable to them – to make it a completely even contest the allowance should be one-and-a-quarter times the difference – but our golf unions consider that is the correct adjustment to make.

Our club captain, Nick, explained why low handicappers don't agree. Nick plays off plus one and once partnered me to victory in the winter league.

He has done his bit for the high handicappers this year by introducing three divisions into our monthly medal, which gives the hackers a better chance of a prize, but he's doubtful about the fairness of giving them full allowance in matchplay. In strokeplay the hacker has to count every shot he makes, but in matchplay he makes a fresh start on each hole. He can score 20 on a hole but it only counts as the loss of one hole.

If Nick plays a 28 handicapper he has to give 29 shots, so his opponent would get two shots on 11 holes. He could get a load of double bogeys on them and they count as a par, so Nick needs a birdie to win the hole.

"The higher handicap players always seem to raise their game. Not that I mind the challenge, but you can play well and still be up against it. I should be intimidating them, not them me," he said. We discussed a 15 handicapper at our club who hits the ball a mile.

"He used to be erratic with it but now he has a new anti-slice driver and he's hitting more and more greens in regulation. Giving 16 shots to him can be a big struggle," said Nick, who reckons the full allowance rule can stifle the development of individual players.

But he allows that rules are rules, and he will encourage everyone to enter the knockouts again. I asked if he fancied playing me one day. "It wouldbe a pleasure," he said.

He has to give me 25 shots, but I think he'll manage.