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The USGA's Ruling on Solo Rounds Is a Real Handicap

USGA, R&A Announce New 2016 Rules
The USGA and R&A unveiled the new rules of golf for the 2016 season, which take effect January 1, 2016.

For many of us duffers of a certain age, the New Year brought ill tidings: The one element that permitted us to play the game while maintaining a degree of dignity is now prohibited. In this instance I speak not of the ban on anchoring the putter -- though that has many at 6s and 7s -- but the USGA’s announcement that solo rounds can no longer be used to calculate one’s handicap.

Why will scores made while playing alone no longer be eligible for posting? "Primarily, to support a key tenet of the USGA Handicap System: peer review," is the answer found on usga.org. "Knowing golfers rely on the integrity of the system to produce an accurate view of playing ability, this change helps golfers form a better basis to support or dispute scores that have been posted to a player’s scoring record. The majority of handicapping authorities around the globe have employed this policy for some time. With them, the USGA believes it provides a more accurate view of a golfer’s ability, supporting integrity, fairness and equitable play among all golfers."

Translation: They don’t trust us.

When the change was announced in November, many commentators interpreted it as being a shot across the bow of better golfers guilty of posting unverified high scores that would jack up their handicaps so they could get more strokes in club tournaments or less formal competitions. This is a game with which many of us are not familiar. For those of us (including myself, a 22.1 and trending higher) who struggle to break 100 from the whites, it’s an outrage.

There are not many serendipitous privileges left to us oldsters, but playing solo is one of them. With leisure on weekdays, we can be improvisational. On a pleasant day there’s nothing more delightful than driving by a favorite course, seeing the 1st tee (and the rest of track, for that matter) wide open and simply hopping on. No warmup, no rolling a few putts on the practice green. Just get your motor running and head out on the highway! Kind of a sexagenerian's version of Born to Be Wild.

Such anti-social play, of course, contributes to the continuing fragmentation of our society. You know something? As a misanthropic coot, I don’t give a hoot! My whole life, I have been under the microscope, critiqued by teachers, spouse, bosses, alleged friends. In a solo round, I am free from scrutiny.

But the killjoys at the USGA have relegated these solitary jaunts to practice. Here I invoke the words of former NBA star Allen Iverson on the subject:. “We’re talking about practice, man. What are we talking about? Practice? We’re talking about practice, man. We’re talking about practice.”

You get the drift.

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When it comes to "integrity," the USGA may have a case. Sure, my solo rounds have an integrity, but one of their own. Take the course I most often jump on. The 1st and 2nd are handshake holes, each being a fairly straightforward 350-or-so yarder, albeit with a small, tight green. Even at my level, I should play them in no more than 12 strokes. I make sure I do: On my card, I never mark down scores totaling more than 12. The rationalization is, had I hit a few balls and putts before teeing off, I would have done at least that well. Thus, 12 is a true approximation of my golfing skill (or lack thereof).

This is a lie, but it’s the kind of lie favored by George Costanza on Seinfeld, who once famously declaimed, “It’s not a lie, Jerry, if you believe it.” Then again, if I make a birdie, I mark down…a birdie!

The rest of the round is one big "and so on." There are times when, to keep moving, I won’t search for a drive banged into the woods but will simply hit another one and play the second ball. Putts inside of three feet? Pick ’em up! Without a witness, there is nobody to call me on these violations. There is also, however, nobody to witness a birdie or a hole in one. (I’ve never had an ace, but still…) The tree will fall in the forest, and it will not make a sound.

I refuse to concede that these unpoliced rounds do not possess a certain rough-hewn integrity. A 102 occasionally may have become a 99, but a 100 never has become a 90. Besides, under Equitable Stroke Control provisions of the USGA’s own handicapping system, my scores on blow-up holes usually are capped. So whose integrity is it, anyway?

But rules are rules. That means the Modified Grizzled Golfer Scoring System is out. I will have to choose between unposted solo rounds or 18 holes with Dreaded Others. The USGA even helpfully provides a guide to the latter: “As long as someone accompanies the player during the round (e.g., fellow competitor, opponent, caddie, marker for a tournament, friend riding along in a cart) the player is not playing alone.”

This Grumpy Old Man will go along. But it will be kicking and screaming. That, you can post.

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