Alright so the title is a little dramatic… But the premise is accurate. As a low handicap and as an engineer, I often end up as the “A” player in a group full of “D”s at the charity scramble. Not a problem. Scrambles are always fun, even when I know I’ll be playing my own ball most of the day. It’s a fun atmosphere with a lot of teamwork, cheers, and alcohol consumption.
I’ve pondered in the past how adding a bunch of hacks to a low handicap can affect the potential score as the winners of these scrambles typically shoot seemingly impossible scores. You’d swear the best club in the bag was a pencil. However, with a little strokes gained analysis, it is possible to quantify just how much adding a few (very) high handicaps affected my potential score. So let’s look at how these hacks helped me shoot a 66… And before I come across as a total ass (too late), I’m using hacks as term of endearment. Most of us are hacks.
Without further ado, let’s introduce the team…
Player 1) Me! Currently a 3.8 handicap with my strengths / weaknesses well documented in this blog.
Player 2) We’ll call him J. A leftie. Hits the ball a decent distance when he connects. The only golf he has played in the last 3 years is in this annual event. The rust is visible. Estimated handicap: 30
Player 3) We’ll call him P. Another leftie. Not long, but he’ll have you know he was an alternate on his middle school golf team. Was having trouble with whiffs at warmup. Doesn’t play much anymore. Looking for lightning in a bottle. Estimated handicap: 35
Player 4) We’ll call him N. Only plays in scrambles once a year. Pulls his putts unpredictably. Struggles with speed control but can get the long ones on-line. More or less useless off the green (sorry). Estimated handicap: 50
Not exactly an all star team, but serviceable. The drinking handicaps are considerably better.
Below is the scorecard. We started on the twelfth hole and started slowly. A bogey followed by 6 consecutive pars. That is on me. We (I) only hit two greens in those first 7. With high handicaps whose best chance to contribute is putting, that is not getting the job done. I gotta at least get it on the green. Things changed as we turned around to the front nine. We hit a green, made a long putt, and popped open the can with our first birdie. Either we had finally warmed up or the beer started working because we shot -6 over the next 10 holes. That is golfing your ball.
So when it is all said and done, we shot 66 (-5). I’ll give myself credit for all the tap ins, which are virtually 0 in strokes gained anyway… The shot breakdown is as follows:
Again, just to be clear, I am attributing anything less than 4ft to me, even if another player actually made the putt. Being the anchor, I putted last in all cases, so I am assuming I would have made those putts. In all cases where I had to make a putt of 5 feet or less, and there were several, I made them. I think this is a safe assumption for this discussion.
Now… ignoring my contribution for a minute, the other players contributed in an expected manner.
J, with the lowest handicap of my teammates, contributed a drive and two irons when they were desperately needed. So even though the strokes gained is low, had we used my ball we would have lost slightly more. He also made an 18 foot putt for our first birdie.
P, our former middle school alternate, contributed as expected as well. About midway through the round he found his groove and hit several solid iron shots. Now, despite his solid irons shots, in most cases I covered him up and hit a better one. However, we used one of his irons straight up that lead to a birdie and him hitting a couple greens certainly took the pressure off and allowed me to hit some quality iron shots. He also made an 8 foot putt at one point. So several solid contributions.
Then there was N. Now I didn’t expect anything from N other than on the greens. That’s expected. For a 50 handicap to hit even a single shot better than a 4 is just not realistic unless he gets pretty lucky. Still, there is a role for this player and he did a great job of making short putts and keeping the pressure off. There is something to be said for easy pars in a scramble. He also burned the edges on several long ones. On a different day he is probably contributing even more. Still, good contributions from a high handicapper…
Wait, who is X?… In this scramble, they had a charity deal where a ReMax Long Drive contestant would hit a drive for you for a donation. He belted one 350 on a par 5 into the middle of the fairway. This was huge as I capitalized on it by hitting it from 190 yards to 4 feet and made the putt for Eagle. Huge.
So if we switch from talking strokes gained against the PGA Tour to strokes improved for my personal score, things are a little different. I’ll estimate how many strokes higher my score would have been without each player’s contribution…
J… Though we used his drive and a couple irons, my ball was in play in each of these instances and we did not birdie those holes. I would say those shots were a net 0 strokes improved from his contributions. However, he made an 18 footer for birdie that I likely don’t make. So J improved my individual score by 1 stroke.
P… We used one of his irons and one of his putts. However, the iron we used lead to the 18 footer that J made. I can’t give them both a stroke as it wasn’t the difference between birdie to bogey. My iron was in a good spot and I would have made par at worst. So I can’t credit P with a stroke for that one. However, he did make an 8 footer, that I likely don’t make on my own ball. So P improved my individual score by 1 stroke.
N… He made several of our short putts, preventing me from having to even get the putter out. However, most of them are putts I likely make if I have to… So I can’t credit him with a full stroke. I’ll say he helped by half a stroke.
X… No way I have a chance at that green in 2 on my own ball, at least not with a 4 iron… That takes eagle out. If I give myself the birdie, he improved my score by a full stroke.
If we’re keeping score, that’s improvement on my individual score of 3.5 strokes. Meaning I would have shot either 69 or 70 on my own ball. However, that would be neglecting the intangibles. Having a team is certainly worth something. Getting to see each putt at least 3 times, even if some of the ‘free reads’ are less than helpful (ie. missiles racing past the hole). Another intangible is simply having ‘ball in hand’. Being able to pick up and place your ball within a club length certainly makes it easier. I believe in a PGA Tour round earlier this year, Mark Broadie mentioned this was worth half a stroke or so. If you add up these intangibles, they are probably worth another 1-2 strokes. Meaning I probably shoot 71-72 on my own ball. The way I was playing, that is certainly reasonable estimate. With that in mind, 4-5 strokes improvement is a lot to get from a group of high handicappers. Getting some mid handicappers would improve this even further, however I would bet that the returns start to diminish relatively quickly. Meaning, if you knock 20 strokes off each of their handicaps, you probably only knock off 5 or so strokes. Golf is still hard. As I play more scrambles I’ll continue to track and quantify this.
Now, I’ve already broken down which shots we used from which guys, but another way to quantify the contribution is to compare how our strokes gained as a scramble team compared to my individual stats from this past year. My individual data is a little skewed towards the poor side as I had a bad year on the course, but it is still interesting to see how likely it is that I could have performed at this level without my teammates.
Total strokes gained:
Clearly, for total score having a team helped considerably. It improved me by 4-5 strokes over my best score (which was a 73 on a more difficult golf course). From my average on the year, the performance was 10 strokes better. Definitely significant. However, what part of the game improved? Tee, Irons, Short Game, Putting?
Here is off the Tee:
There isn’t much separation here between the scramble performance and my own performance. Now it is on the higher side of what I have done on the year, but within my wheelhouse. This makes sense as from my comments above, we pretty much used my tee shot on every hole, except where the ReMax guy helped us out. These guys didn’t contribute directly, but I did have a good day individually.
Onto the Irons:
Now they didn’t really help on the irons at all. In fact, I didn’t have a particularly good day myself. Just an average day on the irons. So not much help off the tee or on the irons… where did these guys help?
Was it in the short game?
Uh… No… The short game was right in my wheelhouse as well. Maybe on the high end of what I typically do, but not outside my distribution. In fact, every wedge shot and every green we missed… we used my chip. So this makes sense. When you have 3 guys that touch golf clubs once a year, you don’t expect them to have much touch around the greens.
So it must have been putting:
And it was. This putting performance would definitely be on the high side for me. Now that is somewhat believable anyway, as I did make a 12 footer and a 27 footer on the day. However, do I make as many of these putts without getting to see the others putt 3 times? Not likely. So my putting performance seemingly improved and the contributions from the others (such as J’s 18 foot putt) made this a better putting performance than I am used to.
So if you look at each of these distributions, other than Irons, the data is skewed towards the upper range of what I am capable of. Being that we didn’t actually use a ton of their shots, it would seem to suggest that having a team made me play to a higher potential. My scoring was better simply because of the team environment. Whether that was due to support or feeling the pressure to perform and not disappoint I don’t know, but I clearly outperformed my 2015 averages in almost every category. That is what makes the a scramble fun. Altogether we had a blast. I didn’t think we had a 66 in us and looking back it should have been better. We were effectively +1 on the first 7 holes and -6 on the last 11. I was struggling to get my distances correct early on. Eventually, we ‘drank each other to greatness’, but maybe we should have opened the beer sooner.