Posed to a golfer, "What's your handicap?" can elicit a variety of responses ranging from a serious number to a comment about clubs.
The joke: "My backswing, my downswing and my putting."
But it's a serious matter for about 33,000 golfers who have registered handicap indexes with the Tennessee Golf Association.
"I think it's a pretty important thing to have if you're going to play any amount of golf," said Lynne Howd, director of handicapping for the TGA. "It can track your progress up or down, and it can help a golfer of one ability compete with those on a different level.
"Those are the two main reasons to have a handicap."
The handicap is a mathematical formula that uses a player's score, the course rating, the course slope, a multiplier and a divisor.
"It determines what a golfer is capable of shooting," Howd said. "It is not a golfer's average score."
It is used in many tournaments, including the North Georgia Invitational, to organize golfers into championship, first and second flights -- which allows more people to compete for trophies and prizes.
Flighting golfers by handicap prevents somebody who routinely shoots 100 from being in the same group as somebody who shoots 70.
The USGA, TGA and other tournament organizers also limit entries for national and state events to those with a certain handicap or better. Golfers must have a handicap of 1.4 or better to attempt to qualify for the U.S. Open. It's 4.4 for the U.S. Women's Open and 18.4 for the U.S. Senior Women's Amateur, which will be played Sept. 10-15 this year at The Honors Course.
In other tournaments or leagues, golfers with a higher handicap get a stroke off their score on the most difficult holes, up to their handicap. A legit handicap can prevent sandbagging or claiming to be bad in order to receive more shaved shots.
Of the 33,000 golfers in Tennessee, Howd estimated that about 1,300 have a handicap of 2.0 or better. Golfers can earn a handicap with minimal help from any area golf course, the TGA or the Georgia State Golf Association.
Marie Morrison and Marcia Janosko finished a morning round at Valleybrook on Tuesday and then headed to the clubhouse to key in their scores.
"It's not as good as it once was," said Morrison, who started playing the game again in May after two years away because of back surgery. "I was playing at an 18.9. Now it's around 24. It's good to get the strokes."
It's also good to claim a low handicap.
"If you have a true handicap, you can gauge your game on a home course and still gauge yourself on other courses, too," said Heath Pendergraft, assistant pro at the Bear Trace at Harrison Bay. "It helps anybody play anybody, and it prevents somebody coming in and sandbagging a good tournament."
David Uchiyama is a sports writer at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who began his tenure here in May 2001. His primary beats are UTC athletics — specifically men’s basketball and athletic department administration — and golf, which includes coverage from the PGA Tour to youth events. He also covers other high school sports, outdoor adventures, and contributes to other sections of the newspaper when necessary. David grew up in Salinas, Calif., and began working ...
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