How tournament golf changed my game – the reformation of a vanity handicapper

I think I'd be happy if I ever got my handicap index down to around 7.  Who am I kidding? If I got it down to seven, I'd want to get it down to 5.

I think I’d be happy if I ever got my handicap index down to around 7. Who am I kidding? If I got it down to seven, I’d want to get it down to 5.

I was the absolutely just the worst type of golfer.  A lunatic. Insufferable.  Reprehensible.  A laughing-stock.

I was, indeed, a vanity handicapper.  Despite my best efforts to free myself from the shackles of pride, false bravado, and trying to control perceptions of me in all phases of my life, the hardest vanity to let go of was my golf handicap.

I cared very deeply what my golf handicap index was for one simple reason: I wanted others to think I was a good golfer.

It didn’t matter that my a few holes into any round, the jig was up and all could see that the Emperor had no clothes as I badly hooked one drive after another.

Never mind that I had included “record every stroke” in list of new year’s resolutions for 2014.  It was probably first resolution to fail and die.

Ego can make one do strange things. I manipulated my scores, and occasionally fudged the tally for a given hole, all in the name of keeping my handicap “down.”

To make things worse, it’s not like I was competing in a league or placing handicap index based wagers on the golf course.  I don’t think my invitation to Mr. Burke’s notoriously tough Champions Golf Club in Houston was being held up simply because I couldn’t get my index down to single digits.

No, the complete and utter insecurity of wanting to manipulate how people, including you, Dear Readers, thought of me as a golfer, was a bad habit I couldn’t kick. If I was a good golfer, or more importantly, if people thought I was a good golfer, then maybe they would like or respect me more.

The internal justification went like this inside of my mind: I love golf. I work at improving my golf game a lot. My results should be better than what I achieve. So let’s “get” a handicap that reflects how much I care and is commensurate with how good I think I should be.

Part of the vanity fell when I decided to visit a teaching pro last year.  That first lesson comes with a supersized dose of humility free with the lesson.  Then, as I improved, that humility slowly gave way to that old feeling of “deserve.”

Playing Olde Stone was a real treat.  Scoring at Olde Stone was brutal, and began the process of getting over the vanity element of my handicap.

Playing Olde Stone was a real treat. Scoring at Olde Stone was brutal, and began the process of getting over the vanity element of my handicap.

Then a funny thing happened.

I started entering Kentucky Golf Association (“KGA”) Amateur Series tournaments.  These were lower level amateur tournaments open to all KGA members that allowed us to measure our golf games at some very nice venues that many of us wouldn’t normally have the opportunity or inclination to play. (Admittedly, getting to play a round at Olde Stone was the initial motivation for even considering these tournaments).

The tournaments were composed of flights based on age that produced gross (raw scores) and net (raw scores adjusted pursuant to the golfer’s handicap index) champions in each flight. Playing in these events gave me a newfound appreciation for playing golf pursuant to the actual Rules of Golf.  Counting every stroke.  Holing every putt.  Tallying every penalty stroke.

Despite all my best intentions, it was not until I started getting my arse kicked on both a gross and net score basis did I fully understand the value of keeping an accurate golf handicap index.

In these tournaments I was paired with guys in my flight that were much better than me, and occasionally one or two who were at or below my skill level.  But my lack of an accurate handicap index meant that I didn’t really have any chance to compete against much of anyone in my flight.

I discovered that at the scorer’s table, no one really cared what my score was, only that I’d turned in a properly filled out and signed scorecard.  No one gave me a hard time about how terrible my score may be, they simply recorded the scores and declared a winner.

Amazingly, no one had ever done this to my face.

Amazingly, no one had ever done this to my face.

No snickering, no snide remarks, no public floggings.  Nothing beyond perhaps a good-natured ribbing over a particularly hilariously atrocious episode on the course from my fellow competitors.

It wasn’t until I played in these five tournaments this summer that I finally understood that a bad shot, bad hole, or bad round didn’t make me less of a man.  A score in the 90’s didn’t mean I’d let down my teaching pro or humiliated generations of my family.

It simply meant I probably had some more work to do at the range and should probably schedule another golf lesson.  And finally, mercifully, it was okay.

So that, Dear Readers, is how I came to be cured of keeping my vanity handicap.  Because I finally know that it really doesn’t matter.

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4 thoughts on “How tournament golf changed my game – the reformation of a vanity handicapper

  1. Good post. There really is nothing like tournament golf to put you in your place. Breakfast balls? Nope. Mulligans? Nope. Gimmie putts? Nope. It’s a very humbling experience. I used to play a lot with the OVGA Tour up in Cincinnati; a Club Without Real Estate that is basically a flighted traveling golf league that plays tournament golf. I shot an 105; with 5 pars. No one really cared what I shot, as long as rules were followed. For those that haven’t done it, I really invite them to play this way and count every stroke at least a few times. It’ll help when you actually get into competitions and have to play that way.

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  2. David,

    Great post my friend. It’s easy to get caught up in one’s handicap and let it define you, which is simply a recipe to be uptight on the course and be worried about your score. I’ve had some humbling tournament experiences as well. Scoring in a tournament as opposed to a casual round with your buddies is a completely different game and takes some time and experience to acquire. I don’t think too many people could play to their handicap (assuming it’s accurate) in a tournament if tournament golf is relatively new to them. It takes guts to put yourself out there and hang a score on the board and not care what people think. Like you said, nobody really cares. I don’t even care that much about most people’s scores on the PGA Tour, why would anyone care about our amateur scores?

    Happy to hear you freed yourself from the shackles of worrying about your handicap.

    Cheers
    Josh

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