Fergus Bisset: Handicap slide

What's in a number? Fergus considers the importance of his handicap to his general well-being.

I never fail to be surprised by how much importance I unintentionally attach to my handicap. It unquestionably acts as a barometer for my general happiness and well-being. On the way down it's: "set fair," versus, when it's climbing steadily: "stormy." When I'm feeling depressed I often struggle to find the cause. I'll consider work, social life and alcohol intake before I accept that, more often than not, bad golf is at the root of my malaise. If this appears a little shallow, that's because it is.

I'm thinking about this today because in Saturday's Medal I shot a 73, nett 70. CSS was 68 so I was up by 0.1 (again.) This put me to 3.5, or four if you like. This is the first time my handicap has been up to four since late in 2005. As a result, I'm feeling horrendous.

It's pretty ridiculous. It's just a number that appears after my name on a list in the clubhouse (or on the computer,) and it's a number that only people who play this blasted game have any interest in. But I can't help being obsessed by it.

I couldn't sleep last night as I was working out how various scores in upcoming competitions might affect it. "If I can just shoot a 71 in the Club Championship on Wednesday I should get down by 0.1 and be back to three.... If I could somehow scrape it round in 67, I might get as low as 3.0 ... what would I need to get down to two? It would have to be nett 57, so a 61. That's doable, I'd have to start with a birdie and allow for a possible bogey at the second, then I'd need to go birdie crazy over the last 16." Oh be quiet, please be quiet. "Yes, yes, in a minute... But, if I could shoot a 67, and then a 66, I'd be down to 2.5 and that would be the perfect spot from which to make a dent in two." Won't somebody make him stop?

I know four isn't exactly a disastrous handicap to play off and many reading this will wonder what I'm whinging about. The thing is: it's relative. Consider this - in the last four years, I've gone up from one to four, that's a 400% increase. If someone playing off eight, four years ago, suffered a similar % drop in form, they would now be playing off 32.

This week I'm determined to arrest the slide. I'm hoping to get a game later today (if this perpetual rain would just take a few hours off,) and it's the second, and possibly third, rounds of the Club Championship on Wednesday and Friday.

In years gone by I would have harboured vague hopes of winning our Club Champs. I've been second in the past and occasionally manage to post a decent score in it. But this season, my expectations are nowhere near winning. I'd be hugely delighted if I made the cut (the last 16 get through.) That's a large part of the problem I guess: a total lack of self-belief.

Actually, when I think about it, that's not fair. I do have self-belief. I totally believe in myself to make a double bogey five at Banchory's 2nd hole every time I have a card in my hand. I believe in myself to make an utter Horlicks of every delicate pitch shot I face during the course of a round, and, I have complete belief in my own ability to miss every single makeable birdie putt I'm presented with over the course of 18-holes.

OK, so I do have the ability to believe. Just not in the right things. I need to change my outlook quick smart or my mental barometer, just like the real one at the bottom of my stairs, will continue to point towards "much rain."

Fergus Bisset
Contributing Editor

Fergus is Golf Monthly's resident expert on the history of the game and has written extensively on that subject. He is a golf obsessive and 1-handicapper. Growing up in the North East of Scotland, golf runs through his veins and his passion for the sport was bolstered during his time at St Andrews university studying history. He went on to earn a post graduate diploma from the London School of Journalism. Fergus has worked for Golf Monthly since 2004 and has written two books on the game; "Great Golf Debates" together with Jezz Ellwood of Golf Monthly and the history section of "The Ultimate Golf Book" together with Neil Tappin , also of Golf Monthly. 

Fergus once shanked a ball from just over Granny Clark's Wynd on the 18th of the Old Course that struck the St Andrews Golf Club and rebounded into the Valley of Sin, from where he saved par. Who says there's no golfing god?