Can You Have A Negative Handicap In Golf? Is It Possible?

Golf such a competitive sport and allows golfers of all abilities to compete in the game, the reason behind this is the golf handicap system. It enables a lesser experienced golfer to play more shots on a specific hole than an experienced golfer.

Subtracting your handicap from your gross score (number of shots played during the round) gives you your net score. This means that a 24 handicap golfer that played 96 shots scored a net level par score.

A golfer with a 10 handicap that scores  86 in the same round scores a net 76 score and therefore loses to the 24 handicap golfer.

Handicaps apply to amateur golfers only and professionals do not have an official handicap.

The handicap system takes into consideration the number of shots played over a few rounds to calculate your handicap. As your scores improve your handicap reduce until you play consistent rounds at par at which you become a zero handicap or better known as a scratch handicap golfer.

So, what happens if you play consistent rounds below par? Can you have a negative handicap in golf?

Yes, consistently performing below par will take your handicap into negative territory.

The irony of this is that it is better known as a +1 or higher handicap although the handicap is calculated to be negative. This is due to a golfer with a “plus” index having to add—not subtract—strokes to his gross score to determine a net score.

Getting A Handicap When New To Golf

Beginners that have never had a handicap before can register as a golfer and then submit 3 scores for rounds of 9 or 18 holes completed. The scorecards submitted must be signed by you and the marker or playing partner. This is required to increase the authenticity of the scores submitted and thereby reduce the number of fake handicaps.

Read more: Golf Handicap Explained

Number Of Scores Needed To Obtain Handicap Index

The rule changes in 2020 require you to submit 3 scores for 54 holes to obtain a handicap index. This can be made from a combination of 9-hole and 18-hole rounds.

Revision of the handicap index is done on the 1st day of the month and the 15th day of every month. The revision calculates tour latest index score using the last 3 scores submitted up to midnight of the day before the calculation.

How To Calculate Your Handicap?

Changes to the calculation of your handicap were introduced in 2020 to represent the strokes a golfer receives in a competition depending on the tees the golfer is playing from.

A Score Differential measures your performance related to conditions on the day you play.

To qualify for a USGA handicap index calculation you have to comply with certain requirements as set out in the link.

The formula used to calculate score differential:

Score differential = (113 / Slope Rating) x (Adjusted Gross Score – Course Rating – PCC adjustment)

There are a few factors used in the calculation of your handicap.

  • Standard Course Rating

113 is a constant and represents the slope rating of a golf course of average difficulty

  • Slope Rating

This is the USGA’s rating that indicates the relative difficulty of a course for non-scratch golfers compared to the USGA Course Rating (e.g., compared to the difficulty of a course for scratch golfers.

A Slope Rating is computed from the difference between the Bogey Rating and the USGA Course Rating.

The lowest Slope Rating is 55 and the highest is 155.

A golf course of standard playing difficulty has a Slope Rating of 113

This can be found on the scorecard.

  • Adjusted Gross Score

Fortunately, you do not have to count every stroke played in the calculation of your handicap.

Adjusted Gross Score is calculated using the USGA’s Equitable Stroke Control (ESC) policy. This enables you to adjust the number of strokes downward depending on the maximum allowed according to the golfer’s Course Handicap.

A course handicap of less than 10 only allows for a double bogey, 10-19 for a maximum of 7, 20-29 for a maximum of 8, 30 – 39 a maximum of 9 shots, and a course handicap of 40 and above for a maximum of 10 shots per hole.

  • Course Rating

The course is rated by the USGA.

The local Allied Golf Association, with support from the USGA, is responsible for conducting the on-course rating of all golf courses within their jurisdiction.

  • PCC – Playing Conditions Calculation Adjustment

This may provide for an adjustment if the course and/or weather conditions significantly impacted scores on that day.

How Many Differentials To Use?

The number of score differentials used in the calculation of your handicap index depends on the average differential of the number of scores entered up to a maximum of 20 scores.

Calculate the average of the differentials used by adding them together and dividing by the number used.

For fewer than 6 rounds you only have to use your lowest differential, 6-8 rounds require your 2 lowest differentials, 9-11 rounds require your 3 lowest differentials, 12-14 rounds require your 4 lowest differential 15-16 rounds require your 5 lowest differentials, 17-18 rounds require your 6 lowest differentials, 19 rounds require your 7 lowest differentials, and 20 rounds require your 8 lowest differentials.

Once you have calculated the average of the differentials, you multiply it by 0.96 to determine your handicap index up to the second digit.

Final Thoughts

Although the calculation of a handicap index can be a rather interesting process that will take a while for beginners to understand, it makes golf more competitive and allows a higher handicap golfer to compete on equal footing with more experienced golfers.

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Nick is the founder of GolfSpan and an avid golfer. He's not quite a pro but has over 15 years of experience playing and coaching golfers worldwide. His mission is to bring the golfing community a better experience when it comes to choosing the right golf gear and finding the right setup for your game.

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