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The handicap system is fundamental to the amateur game. It allows players of both sexes, of all ages and abilities to compete against one another on a level playing field. The World Handicap System uses an average calculation method to provide an accurate representation of an amateur golfer’s current aptitude and performance level.
A player with a 36 handicap should have an equal chance to win a Stableford competition as a player with a handicap of scratch. Without the handicap system in amateur golf, the vast majority of participants would have no way to compete, and the game would be far less appealing to such a broad spectrum of people.
Do PGA Tour Players Have a handicap?
In professional golf, there is no handicap system. Professionals compete against one another flat – No shots are given. The best gross score wins either after 72 or 54-holes of stroke play, or on individual holes in match play.
Some pro golfers keep a handicap for interest or at their home club to give an idea of how many shots they should give amateur friends in fun matches, but those handicaps are not official – Just an interesting guide.
Players like Paul Casey and Martin Kaymer have kept handicaps at Whisper Rock in Arizona where they regularly play and have been as low as plus (+)7 there.
What is A Plus Handicap in golf?
A plus handicap means that a player good enough to possess one, adds shots on to their total score at the end of a round. If they play off +3 they add three shots to their gross score at the end of a round to reach their nett total. If they’re playing a match against, say, a 5 handicap player (someone who takes 5 shots off their gross score at the end of a round to give their nett total,) they would have to give a total of eight shots.
What is the average handicap of a PGA Tour player?
The players on the PGA Tour are the best of the best. If you think that a top amateur will have a handicap of around the +3 to +6 mark, then you would imagine that the top professionals – a couple of competitive levels above the elite amateur - would have a handicap significantly better than that.
A couple of years ago, the Golf Stat Pro Lou Stagner crunched the numbers on the PGA Tour from 2016 to 2020 and worked out what Handicap Index players would be relative to Course Rating and Slope Rating on the course’s scorecard from that period - see below.
Have you ever wondered what the USGA index would be for a PGA Tour pro if they posted scores like we do?Yeah, me too. Shot out to my buddy Clay Ballard (@TopSpeedGolf) for the idea. Index of avg tour pro:▶️ +5.4Best index achieved:▶️ Fowler +8.4 pic.twitter.com/krYodzF7GZMay 30, 2020
It showed the average Handicap Index for PGA Tour players in that time was +5.4.
Those figures are impressive but are even more so when you consider that those calculations didn’t take into consideration the tournament set-up – faster greens, longer rough, difficult pin positions. If those were factored in the handicaps of PGA Tour players could be at least a shot or two lower. As the PGA Tour often stresses, “these guys are good.”
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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?
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