U.S. Open

Pinehurst Resort & Country Club (Course No. 2)


10 tells of a sandbagger

February 27, 2023

Ezra Shaw

Rarely do golfers call one another out. The annual pro-am at Pebble Beach is the exception to this unwritten rule, for there’s always—always—one amateur that brings a phony handicap to the proceedings that pisses off everyone else. This year the provocateur was Aaron Rodgers. The future Hall-of-Fame QB was outed as a Hall-of-Fame sandbagger; despite being listed as a 3 in the USGA’s GHIN system, Rodgers was somehow getting 10 (!) shots at the tournament. In a related note, Rodgers and Ben Silverman won the pro-am portion of the event. If that seems egregious, it was, with Keith Mitchell stating it was “crap.”

Like communism, golf's handicap system is rooted in good intentions, but is an infrastructure that is easily falsified and exploited. What was supposed to create a level playing field for sticks and hacks often tips the scales in the latter's direction, with better players penalized for, uh, being good. If this sounds dramatic, well, clearly you've never been on the business end of a 12-handicap "magically" shooting 75. However, most sandbagging is not that obvious. The beauty, or perhaps we should say ugliness, lies in its subtlety.

Still, sandbaggers can, and should, be outed. Here are 10 ways to spot a sandbagger.

Few, if any, recent scores
If their GHIN only shows one or two scores from the past year—and you know damn well they’ve played more than once or twice during that span—chances are they’re milking a higher handicap.

Posting scores away from home course
An out-of-whack ratio of home/away scores is a red flag. There’s a level of self-policing that exists within a club, making it harder to post a phony score. That same level of enforcement is damn near impossible when a score happens away from home base.

Purposefully misses tap-ins
Anything inside 3-feet. A big sign is if the miss is a pull, not a push, because pulls are easier to control. In a related note …

Picks up tap-ins so score doesn’t count
A lot of us play gimme rules when playing with friends and (avert your eyes, USGA) still post the scores. However, a sandbagger, when playing well, may casually swipe away a few tap-ins then feign some fealty to the rules when not posting the score afterwards.

Poorly dressed
No, the sandbagger is not going to dress like Rickie Fowler or Ian Poulter. Actually on the other side of the fashion spectrum, showing up in gym shoes or baggy clothes, anything to look like the opposite of a professional and thus get your guard down.

Doesn’t warm up
Not stretching out on the range or failing to test the speed on the practice green can lead to a cold start and thus add a few strokes on the sandbagger’s score.

If a casual round is going bad, the sandbagger will make sure to take it from bad to worse to make sure the rough day doesn’t go to waste.

Wrong club
When the sandbagger wants to give away a hole or post a bad score, you’re not going to see them hook a ball 40 yards into the woods or whiff. Instead, their surrender will be more understated. If they need 150 yards to carry a water hazard, their shot will only go 145, or if trouble is behind a green, the sandbagger will just so happen to overclub.

Gags closing in
Let’s say a match has already been closed out by the 15th hole. The sandbagger will stumble in, knowing the day’s winnings are already secured, with the stumble helping pad the handicap. Which is a distant cousin to …

Gets drunk at the end
Again, subtly is key. For missing gimmies or a late blowup can be called out as sandbagging. But a score going south because someone had one too many pops, not as easy to spot.