124th U.S. Open

Pinehurst No. 2

The Long Game

Our company Match Play tournament is the ultimate handicap system stress test

Even in Golf Digest competitions, the allotment of strokes is a popular discussion point
May 20, 2024

The Long Game tracks the Handicap Index progress of four Golf Digest editors of different abilities throughout the 2024 golf season. Catch up on last month’s story.

A month into this season-long project, the state of our respective games suddenly matters to more than us. On Tuesday, we finalized the pairings for Golf Digest’s annual company Match Play tournament, where grousing about matchups and allotment of strokes is as much a part of the tradition as post-round handshakes.

It’s probably not surprising to know a golf-obsessed organization like ours has the same handicap conversations heard at courses around the country. In that sense, our Match Play serves as a worthy case study in how the World Handicap System can accommodate a cross-section of golfers in the same field.

First, a look at our respective progress over the last month.

Now, consider what awaits the four of us.

Luke has the typical low-handicap dilemma in his match against Grace from our sales team. With Luke hovering near scratch and Grace a 30 index, the skill gap might suggest a one-sided match. The problem for Luke is Grace will be getting two strokes on more than half the holes, and she is more than capable of stringing together enough decent shots to put Luke on edge the whole time.

– I drew a random play-in match, against another sales exec, Dan, a 4.6-index with a tight draw and syrupy tempo who would normally run me off the course. But with the company Match Play accounting for 100 percent of our handicaps, I have eight strokes to level the playing field on our chosen course (a Handicap Index is converted to a Course Handicap at the specific venue, turning Dan’s 4.6 into a 6 handicap, and my 11.5 into a 14).

– If I somehow win, I face Maddi, a former college golfer who now lives in New York City and plays to a dangerous 6.3 index. Some of the best players on our staff are women, including the defending Match Play champion Daria Delfino, but the handicap system accounts for not only competition between men vs. women, but players who play different tees. If Maddi chooses to play from a forward set of tees than me—not entirely necessary since she hits it just as far—her course handicap will be adjusted accordingly: If she played the whites, I’d be getting three strokes. If she moved up to the golds, I’d get six.

– Finally, there is Greg, the beginner in our progress-tracking experiment, and his situation represents another common scenario. Until a month ago, Greg didn’t even have a Handicap Index. He has since signed up for one and posted his first two scores, but to have a usable number, a player must post 54 holes. By the time Greg plays his first-round match against our new intern, Lily, he will have enough scores to be legit. His Handicap Index will most likely be in the vicinity of Grace's, but it’s just the start of what he expects to be a long ride.