I ran out of daylight last night on the sixteenth hole.
Up until that point, I had been playing some outstanding golf. The solid ball striking that has eluded me all summer had returned over the previous three rounds, and last night was a continuation of the theme. I was driving the ball long and straight and hitting greens with the irons. Only my putting was not dead on.
I shot a 40 on the front nine, and might have had a 36, but for some ridiculously short misses (Tiger, I feel your pain.) With the light dimming, I worked my way through the more difficult back nine. Ten through fourteen were finished in three over par. Then, the fifteenth: a narrow shot through the woods. It was dark enough that I couldn’t see my ball land. I found it, but fell short on the approach, flubbed the chip and scored a double. When I got to sixteen, I knew it was over: the Ranger was sitting in a cart near the tee.
“Last hole, guys,” he said.
So on sixteen, I managed to get in with a bogey. A double and a bogey on two consecutive holes. Ouch. I’d like to blame the lack of light, but it really was just that I was rushing, trying to finish the last few holes.
Sixteen holes of pretty good golf. But that left two spots empty on the scorecard. I felt as though I should record my score for handicap purposes—I’ve been playing very well lately, and my handicap should reflect that. But the round was unfinished.
Fortunately, the USGA has a plan for just such a contingency in its rules for handicapping:
4-2. Holes Not Played or Not Played Under The Rules of Golf
If a player does not play a hole or plays it other than under “The Rules of Golf” (except for preferred lies), the score recorded for that hole for handicap purposes must be par plus any handicap strokes the player is entitled to receive on that hole. This hole score, when recorded, should be preceded by an “X.”
Example: A player with a Course Handicap of 10 receives a handicap stroke on the first 10 allocated handicap-stroke holes. If the player does not play the sixth allocated handicap-stroke hole, which is a par 4, because of construction on the green, the player must record a score of par plus one for handicap purposes, or X-5. (See Section 5-2b.)
Note: A score must not be posted if the majority of the holes are not played under the principles of “The Rules of Golf.”
Given my current handicap, and the fact that the final two holes are the #2 and #8 holes, I recorded a 3+1, and a 5+1. That gave me a 44 for the back nine, and a total of 84; my best round in a while.
That’s what the rules say, but I still am a bit unsure about the assumptions. Rather than finishing bogey-bogey, it is just as likely I would have folded like a house of cards and shot a couple of doubles. Seventeen is a very problematic hole for me: a 215 yard par three, slightly uphill and always playing into the wind. I’ve doubled it as often as I’ve parred. Eighteen is less problematic, but still not easy: a 557 yard par five.
I often have this internal conflict when recording my score with the GAM (Golf Association of Michigan). My low scores—the ones that drive my handicap down—usually are the result of a couple of bits of timely luck: a 60 foot putt that snakes into the hole; holing out from the fairway; a wayward shot on a par three that ricochets off a tree and stops a foot from the pin. Counting those, it seems, unfairly makes me seem better than I really am. On the other hand, my high scores are generally the result of some particularly bad luck: a putt that hits a ball crater just in front of the hole and settles in to nest; a drive that hits a sprinklerhead and takes a right turn into the weeds, cost me two shots to hack it out.
So in the end, I figure it all averages out and record the score as played. Unlucky shots are offset by good ones. One perhaps inaccurate unfinished round is offset by the twenty nine I’ve managed to complete this summer. In golf, I think, it all works out in the end.