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All the random things you can learn about someone when looking up their handicap

May 22, 2018

I have a tournament coming up at my home course, so naturally upon being given the name of my opponent, I rushed to the GHIN Handicap Lookup to learn about his game. From a straight index perspective, we were about the same, but when used properly the Handicap Lookup can offer more insight than that. For instance, I could see my opponent has already played plenty this spring, but that he hasn’t played particularly well, and that his last round especially was a dud. I could tell you that he ended 2017 on a hot streak, that he plays the overwhelming majority of his golf at our home course, and that the one inordinately difficult course he played last August cuffed him around pretty good (101!).

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The Handicap Lookup isn’t perfect. It doesn’t provide specific dates of rounds (giving months instead), nor does it tell you the specific courses golfers play away from their home course (although that is viewable when reviewing your own history). But it is, in its own way, a form of social media, offering a window into golfers that can be just as revealing as Instagram or Facebook. Much of this is based on broad deductions drawn from limited information, but then, so is looking at a sunset picture taken on someone’s vacation.

So what can you learn from looking at someone’s handicap? A few nuggets worth considering:

How often someone plays

Probably the easiest detail to uncover is in seeing how many scores a golfer posts in a finite time period, which can be a decent indicator that they’re playing a lot of golf. Put simply, if you see someone has posted seven scores in May, that means they’re already having a pretty good month. It’s when they don’t post many scores where it gets a little trickier. Read on . . .

How often someone posts

When you check someone’s GHIN and see they’ve posted infrequently, that usually means one of two things. The first, at the risk of stating the obvious, is that they don’t play a lot of golf, perhaps because life has intervened, or because they locked their clubs in the car and can’t find the keys. The other variable has a more sinister connotation and might be contingent upon some strategic cross-referencing — that the golfer DOES play plenty, but chooses not to post scores, either out of vanity, as a sandbagger, or in the case of me one year, because I couldn’t remember my GHIN number and was too lazy to ask (true story). In other words, beware golfers like this guy who have worn out the grooves on multiple wedges, but hasn’t posted a score in two years.

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Where someone plays

As mentioned, GHIN doesn’t provide specific locations when looking up someone’s handicap, but some telling clues remain. The first is whether their rounds are at “Home” or “Away,” because the fluctuations in scores might suggest a golfer’s familiarity with his home course plays an outsized role in his performance. Conversely, if a golfer fares comparably on a broad assortment of courses, that points to an admirable level of adaptability. Then there’s the simple ratio of Home to Away. Playing mostly at your home course could mean you’re a slave to routine, while a surplus of “A” rounds might say you’re the sociable sort, on the road often, partial to variety, or all of the above.

The third type of round you can enter is “Tournament” and that comes with its own connotations. The sheer volume of tournament rounds proves the golfer is not averse to competition, and any discrepancy between tournament scores and regular scores says a lot about how you play under the gun (i.e. you either wilt like an August flower or rise to the occasion).

Not to be lost in this analysis is the difficulty of courses played. Though the names of the courses played aren’t viewable when looking at someone’s handicaps, the slope and rating of the courses are. The overly industrious could go so far as to try to identify the course by mapping the slope and rating to other nearby courses, but that’s an imprecise and painstaking task. Short of that, there’s something to be said about a golfer who logs heavy rounds at difficult courses, which makes him battle-tested and perhaps privy to some juicy invites. On the other hand, as much as the handicapping system is already supposed to factor in course difficulty, you should always be skeptical of the single-digit who bides time solely on cupcake tracks. He sounds vulnerable.

Other broad deductions

With additional fact-finding, you can start drawing deeper conclusions, but beware, many of these are highly speculative. For instance, a northern-based golfer who logs heavy rounds in winter months sounds like someone with the resources to travel, whereas a golfer who only plays May through September appears lacking in both a travel budget and the constitution to brave sub-optimal conditions.

Frequency can often be a reflection of life stages, too. An abrupt uptick in scores might mean someone has recently entered into retirement (yay!), or unemployment (aww); or maybe the divorce agreement worked out in their favor and now they’ve got more time on their hands. Meanwhile, a gap in score posting, as referenced above, could be misleading, but it could also be because someone recently fell in love, or is busy coaching their 10-year-old’s soccer team, or because in this instance, they lost the club membership in the divorce.

Or they could have been elected President of the United States, at which time they probably don’t have much time to A) play golf, or B) post stuff on the Internet.