Settling Ties In Handicap Competitions

How do you settle deadlocks-a halved match or a stroke-play tie-in a net competition? Rule 33-6 in the Rules of Golf requires that the Committee in charge of the competition announce a procedure for breaking ties before the competition starts. Simply stated, a halved match shall not be decided by stroke play; a tie in stroke play should not be decided by a match. Under Conditions of the Competition in Appendix I of the Rules of Golf, the USGA has some good recommendations that can help in these ticklish situations.

Let's start with stroke play. One day our favorite duo, Uncle Snoopy and Woodstock, play 18 holes in a net competition at one of their favorite courses, Pumpkin Patch Golf Club. Uncle Snoopy's diligent work on his game has shaved his USGA Handicap Index down to 9.2, which translated into a Course Handicap of 11 that day. Woodstock meanwhile, has continued to struggle along with his 17.4 USGA Handicap Index, which resulted in a Course Handicap of 20 at Pumpkin Patch GC.

At the end of 18 holes, Uncle Snoopy and Woodstock performed some beagle arithmetic on their scorecard. From the drawing, you can see that they both made net scores of 72. How should they proceed to break the tie?

Sudden death is not recommended by the USGA in such cases. It's felt that playing hole-by-hole shouldn't decide a tie in stroke play. Instead, a playoff over 18 holes is the favored format. If that's not feasible, then a nine-, six-, or three-hole in that order) playoff is preferable.

The percentage of 18 holes played should be applied to the players' Course Handicaps to determine how many strokes they receive in the playoff. Fractions of one-half stroke or more should count as a full stroke; any lesser fractions should be disregarded.

The Pumpkin Patch Committee decides Uncle Snoopy and Woodstock should play nine holes to break the tie. Uncle Snoopy received 50% of his Course Handicap, or 5 ½ strokes, which rounds off to 6; Woodstock likewise got 50% of his Course Handicap, or 10 strokes.

If the Committee decided that a play-off of any type wasn't feasible to determine a winner, then matching score-cards is the next-best recommended method of settling a deadlock.

How is this accomplished? They could determine the winner on the basis of the best score for the last nine holes. If the tying players have the same score for the last nine holes, they check the last six holes, then the last three holes, and finally the 18th hole.

If this method is used, one-half, one-third, one-sixth, or one-18th of the Course Handicaps should be deducted. Again, fractions of one-half stroke or more should count as a full stroke; any lesser fractions should be disregarded. If the conditions of the competition provide that ties shall be decided over the last nine, last six, last three, or last hole, then the Committee should also provide what will happen if all these procedures fail to produce a winner.

Let's demonstrate. Suppose Uncle Snoopy has 45 on the last nine. He deducts 50% of his Course Handicap, or six strokes, and has a net score of 39. Woodstock has 49 and deducts 50% of his Course Handicap, or 10 strokes, for a 39. They are still tied, so they must look at the last six holes. Snoopy shot a 31 and deducts four strokes (11 - 3 = 3.7, which rounds to 4) for a 27. Woodstock's 35 is reduced by seven strokes (20 . 3 = 6.7, which rounds to 7) for a 28. Snoopy is the winner.

Match play is a little simpler, thank goodness. Suppose Uncle Snoopy and Woodstock stood all square at the end of 18 holes. The recommended tie-breaker is a hole-by-hole playoff that starts on the hole where the match began. The first player to win a hole captures the match. Handicap strokes should be allowed in the same order as they were during the prescribed round.

Settling ties is difficult and sometimes controversial, but these USGA guidelines help Committees in charge of competitions decide who's the winner in an orderly and equitable fashion. No matter how you fare, you'll be confident the competition was settled fairly using these time proven methods.

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