Amateur Only Problems… Sandbagging scrambles

Everybody loves a golf scramble. A chance to free-wheel it and try to really go low. Your group spends a long day on the golf course, blasting long drives, making bombs, and slapping high fives. You hand in your scorecard, proud of that hard earned 62. You’ve got a chance to win the trophy and that $20 gift card to Applebees… But then you see it.

In big red text… a 55!

How could that happen? It was a windy day. The pins were tucked. Greens were slightly bumpy even. There wasn’t any string or mulligans… How in the world did anyone shoot a 55?!?! So you scan the room. Gotta see this team full of ringers. Gotta be a group full of scratches somewhere. But it never is. Its always a hodgepodge group of misfits.

You got the 5’4″ pudgy guy. Shirt untucked. You saw his bag earlier. He was hitting 300ti series TaylorMades from 1999. You see the tall lanky kid. He might have been a stick. Except you saw him on the range. Posture like the hunchback of Notre Dame and an over the top move that would make it hard to keep a ball on the planet. The third guy is a solid 10 handicap. The same 10 handicap you played with in this event last year that couldn’t hit a green from 120 yards if you gave him 5 balls. Finally there is the fourth guy. The guy who only plays once a year. In this event. Played with rental clubs including a putter the size of a Volkswagen. Yet somehow this Motley Crue shot a 55. Several strokes better than the next best team.

Its frustrating. There was never anything on the line other than pride, a cheap trophy, and bragging rights around the office for the next 365 days. Yet it still stings. You’ll ask them how the day went and the three guys will tell you how awesome the 10 handicap played. It was amazing! They were dropping bombs from everywhere. Didn’t miss a green. In fact, it could have been lower. They had a few lipouts… Sure they did. You can’t help but feel like the best club in their bag must have been a pencil.

So how realistic is it that they just had a career day? Its a good question. Its never comfortable to question someone’s integrity, but sometimes you can’t help but wonder. Maybe strokes gained from the PGA Tour can help.

I recently played in one of these scrambles. There was nothing on the line other than cheap trophies and pride. Groups were paired randomly in a A, B, C, D format. In other words, players were assigned a letter based on handicap and then randomly paired together in foursomes containing one A, B, C, and D player. The group that had me scratching my head was comprised of the following handicaps: 4, 26, 26, and 36. The score they turned in was a 59.

The next best score was a 71. Keep in mind that this was a tournament full of engineers and people that rarely, if ever, play. I am roughy a 2 handicap and was paired with three people that have never played. We struggled to a 73. You have to putt well to win a scramble and we did not. Realistically, we could have shot a 67-68. 59 was never in play. It was windy and the pins were tucked on many of the holes. Thus my shock that the above group turned in a card that read 59…

Let’s start with what an average tour pro would do on holes of the same distance as those of the golf course we played. In the table below I have shown the average strokes needed by a PGA Tour Pro to play holes of the distance for each of the tees of the golf course in question:

Screen Shot 2015-05-07 at 11.54.13 PM

From the above table, we can see that from the tips the tour pro would average 71 strokes. Move him up approximately 400 yards and that drops by a measly 1.2 strokes. Another 400 yards, another 1.2 strokes. Now the tour pro is averaging 68.5 from the White Tees. The White Tees happen to be the yardage we played from. The point here is that an 800 yard difference in yardage would mean less than 2.5 strokes improvement in score! For a tour pro!

So what are the odds that moving up 800 yards would make a more significant difference for an amateur?

Lets start with the 4 handicap… A handicap is a judge of potential, not an average score. However, for the sake of argument lets assume he would typically shoot 76. Furthermore, lets assume that his handicap is established from the tips (not necessarily true). If the 4 handicap saw the same improvement as the tour pro, you would expect him to shoot somewhere around 73.5 from the White Tees. Still a long way from 59.

So now the wildcard… It was a scramble. The guy had help. How much help is a 36 handicap? In my experience… Not much. We’ll give him making a putt or two. Say that gets you to a 71.5 being generous. We are still sitting 12.5 strokes from a 59.

We have two 26 handicappers. Again lets assume thats an average. So they would shoot a score of 98 if left to their own balls. If I am nice and give them the same 2.5 strokes for moving from the tips to the White Tees, that brings them to 95.5s. Being very generous since their handicap is likely not established from the tips. In any case…

Mr. 4 handicap has a really good day. Let’s say he beats his average by 3 strokes! A pretty salty day for a handicap that is already pretty low. Now we are at a 68.5, approximately 10 strokes from a 59. I’ve played lots of scrambles and you’re just not going to convince me that two 26 handicaps are gonna improve my scramble play by 10 strokes without mulligans, or strings, or some other funny business.

On this day, with wind and pin locations… I lean towards shenanigans. Someone either sandbagged handicaps (in this case I doubt it). Or they are not the best at counting… Or maybe it really was a statistical outlier for the group. Maybe everything went just right.

Now if they moved to the forward (red) tees it is entirely possible. We’ve all wondered what we’d shoot from the forward tees. The average Tour pro is going to gain around 8 strokes to move forward by 2000 yards. That means I’d probably get a little less as being an amateur it would be more difficult to take advantage of the decreased yardage. Still would be fun to put a few rounds in the mid to low 60s. Would be a nice confidence booster.

In their case… Did they cheat?… Or achieve something highly improbable?

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