Travelers Championship

TPC River Highlands



Course Handicap

What would you shoot at the U.S. Open? New USGA tool settles a common debate

/content/dam/images/golfdigest/fullset/2024/5/usga-tool-target-score.jpeg
June 01, 2024

Every year during the USGA’s championship season, the relatable hypothetical echoes around America’s grillrooms: What would you shoot on that U.S. Open course? Same tees, same rough, same conditions—how do you stack up?

We ask this for many reasons, in part to better appreciate the skill of the world’s best players, but also as a sort of personal challenge that in many cases, we have no way of testing. “Yeah, I could break 90 out there,” or so your 10-handicap friend might say.

To help us determine whether said friend is irrational or not, but more so to better contextualize the challenge of championship setups, the USGA has released a tool that uses your Handicap Index and course setup data to tell you what your “target score” would be at each of its 15 championships.

To use the aptly named “What would you shoot?” feature, you can either enter your Handicap Index or your estimated average score range if you do not have an Index. Then, select which championship you’re interested in, and it will tell you your target score.

The tool works by taking your Index and calculating your Course Handicap (yes, they are different!), based on the exact course setup that the players will compete on in each championship. Then, that Course Handicap is added to par and that is your target score.

It’s important to note that your target score is not what your average score would be on that course, or even a score that you can expect to shoot. Instead, it is a sort of “goal score” that golfers can expect to shoot around 20 percent of the time, according to the USGA. The rest of the time, the USGA says, golfers will typically score 2-5 strokes higher than their target score.

For example, at Pinehurst No. 2 for this year’s U.S. Open, the Course Rating and Slope is 77.8 and 148. A male golfer with a 0.0 Handicap Index would have a Course Handicap of 8 from the U.S. Open tees, meaning on the par-70 layout, his target score would be 78.

That scratch golfer can expect to shoot 78 or lower on that U.S. Open setup one out of every five rounds, with most of his rounds coming in the 80-83 range.

If this hypothetical sounds familiar to longtime Golf Digest readers, that's because in 2008, 2009 and 2010, we conducted the Golf Digest U.S. Open Challenge, where celebrities, athletes and a contestant winner all played the championship's course under tournament conditions. The results, as you might expect, underscored the difficulty of U.S. Open setups, seeing no player broke 80 and Tony Romo, a competitive amateur with a scratch handicap, shot 84 at Torrey Pines South in 2008.

To help the rest of us determine what our target scores would be on various championship layouts, we’ve used the USGA's new tool to plug in a variety of handicaps for the setups at the U.S. Open, U.S. Women’s Open and U.S. Senior Open.

Scroll on for the breakdown for each championship and be sure to check out the USGA’s “What would you shoot?” feature to explore how you might fare at each of their championships.

As for your 10-handicap friend who is confident he can break 90 from the tips at the U.S. Open? His target score would be 91. That’s a great goal to have next time he heads down to Pinehurst, though we’d recommend he leave it a hypothetical and move up a few tee boxes.

U.S. Open

/content/dam/images/golfdigest/fullset/2024/5/pinehurst-us-open-what-would-you-shoot.jpg

U.S. Women's Open

/content/dam/images/golfdigest/fullset/2024/5/lancaster-us-womens-open-what-would-you-shoot.jpg

U.S. Senior Open

/content/dam/images/golfdigest/fullset/2024/5/newport-us-senior-open-what-would-you-shoot.jpg