I want to get to scratch, but I never want a vanity handicap

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Rob McGarr is doing his best to get from a 10 handicap to scratch. Catch up on his journey so far:

Part One: How hard can it be to go from 10 to scratch?

Part Two: I'm trying to get from 10 to scratch, and now I'm off 11...

Part Three: My first cut and two costly missed tiddlers

Part Four: How many hours per week does it take to get to scratch?

Part Five: Will these three putting drills help me get to scratch?

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Part Six: I want to get to scratch, but I never want a vanity handicap

I'm desperate to get to scratch. It's why I now get up at 6am each morning. Getting to scratch is the last thing I think about before I go to sleep each night. In fact, it's what I think about the vast majority of the time.

I'm therefore understandably jealous of golfers who are off scratch or even close to it. There isn't much I wouldn't give to be in their position. 

Apart from one thing... The freedom to play competitive golf whenever I feel like it. 

Allow me to explain. 

At my home club, Burghley Park, I play with people off various handicaps. I play with people who get two shots on some holes. I play with people off 18. I play with people in the mid-teens. I play with people off similar handicaps to myself, teetering on the edge of single figures. I play with some people off six and seven. I play with some low single-figure handicappers. And I occasionally play with people off the elusive scratch. 

And I've noticed a trend. 

The vast majority of the players I've mentioned above will play in any and every competition they can. Some of the low single-figure golfers, however, will only play when a fateful set of circumstances align in such a way that convinces them that it's safe to enter the comp and risk the 0.1 handicap increase that would seemingly spell the end of days.

Some of them won't play in a comp unless the greens are absolutely immaculate, their game is absolutely on fire, the wind is blowing in just the right direction, their lucky socks have been washed, the clouds look like happy koala bears floating across the sky, the competition falls on the Queen's birthday and they happen to be the 27th person to enter the comp. 

We play golf for the joy of playing and competing, not solely so we can swell with pride when someone asks what we play off. Why sacrifice the freedom to compete just to maintain a slightly lower number?

I know why these golfers are more choosy about when they do and don't play than the rest of us. It's because most of them play in the A or B team for the club, and their place would be at risk if they allowed their handicap to creep up. But even that is a strange way of justifying it, when you think about it. If you don't feel confident that you are playing well enough to maintain your handicap, wouldn't the club be better off being represented by someone who is? 

Personally, desperate as I am to get to scratch, I'd rather be off five or even 12 and be able to play in as many competitions as I want than be off scratch and feel like I daren't risk putting my handicap on the line because I'm not good enough to maintain it. 

I fell victim to this handicap vanity myself last year. Having played in countless comps and stayed on 10 for the entire season, I found myself with an exact handicap of 10.4 approaching the final qualifier of the year. I wasn't playing well, and I knew that a poor round would give me a handicap of 11 that I'd be powerless to change for six months over winter. I pictured the family gatherings over Christmas, with golf-mad uncles asking me, "So what are you off now?" I didn't want to have to say 11. So I skipped the comp. 

Now, we'll never know whether I would have surprised myself, found some form and shot a great round that would have got me cut to nine. In all likelihood, I wouldn't, and I'd have spent six months off 11. But who cares? 

My decision not to play in that competition was weak. I knew it at the time and I know that now. Looking back on it made me realise that no one else could really care less what handicap I'm off; they've all got their own game and handicap to worry about. Even if I succeed in getting to scratch, I'm pretty sure the UK isn't going to declare a national holiday in my honour. The world will keep spinning. People will keep getting their handicaps cut. People will keep going up 0.1. People will keep entering comps and people will keep swerving them because they're too scared. 

We play golf for the joy of playing and competing, not solely so we can swell with pride when someone asks what we play off. Why sacrifice the freedom to compete just to maintain a slightly lower number? That's like saving all your life to buy your dream car and then refusing to ever drive it because you're too afraid the mileage will go up. 

Get out there, buckle up and enter the comp. What's the worst that could happen?

Get the latest on Rob's journey at ScratchGolf.co.uk