PICKING THE RIGHT PARTNER
by Ross Goodner Golf Digest, September, 1984, pages 52-55
Grab a Partner with a 20 Who Can Reach the Par 3's
If you're the guy who invariably has to fork over $10 to your opponent after your weekly fourball match, you obviously need to improve your first-tee negotiating. golf is always fun, but it's even more fun when you win. If you follow some basic guidelines in the selection of a partner you can cut your balance-of-payments deficit.
The cardinal rule of matchmaking: Never select a partner handicap is the same as yours. You want your partner to get strokes on holes where you don't get any. With that firmly in mind, let's examine the different types of players and try to determine which ones best complement each other.
The basic weekend game in this country is four-ball match play, in which two golfers play their better ball against the better ball of two others. In such competition the bottom line is net birdies, or, in other words, getting pars on holes where handicap strokes are assigned. Conversely, the worst thing that can happen to a partnership is for both players to get a net bogey. The ideal, then, is for one partner to have a relatively low handicap an be the kind of player who seldom has a really bad hole. The other player will have a higher handicap, but with the potential to get pars or even an occasional birdie. As one man once summed it up: "Give me a 20-handicapper who can reach the par-3s."
Dean Knuth, the director of handicapping for the U.S. Golf Association, says the average USGA Handicap is 17 for men, 31.5 for women. A golfer's average handicap differential (adjusted score minus USGA Course Rating times 113 over the Slope Rating) is 2.5 strokes higher than his handicap, according to Knuth, and 85 percent of all golfers average 1.5 to 3.5 strokes over their handicap. In other words, if your handicap is 17 and your Course Rating is 70, your average score is probably 89 to 91.
>From these statistics Knuth has determined that there are three basic types of golfers:
1. Steady Eddie--A fairly short but straight hitter who is deadly around the greens. His last 20 scores don't vary by more than five or six shots, and his handicap is only about one stroke below his average. Steady Eddie is strong in match play because he usually plays close to his handicap. He is not strong in stroke play because he rarely beats his handicap, and not by much if he does.
2. Wild Willie--A long and inaccurate hitter who is not deft around the greens. His scores vary by perhaps as much as 20 or more strokes over his last 20 rounds. His handicap is often four or more strokes lower than his average. Wild Willie is strong in stroke play because on occasion he has great potential to beat his handicap by a lot. He is weak in match play because his variability has caused his handicap to be well below his average performance.
3. Average Andy--A player who is neither unusually long nor exceptionally straight, whose handicap is about 2.5 strokes below his average score, who is about as strong in match play as in stroke play--who is, well, average.
In general, then, a Steady Eddie should look for a Wild Willie as a partner to give the team potential. Wild Willie has a chance to reach the long holes in regulation. Steady Eddie gives the team stability, getting pars to offset his partner's disaster holes.
The USGA recommends that in tournament play there be no more than eight strokes difference between the handicaps of the partners in order to make the competition fair (Also, the USGA recommends that team handicaps be reduced 10% percent additionally, if teams exceed this range.). However, there are no rules in your weekly nassau, so you should try to find a partner whose handicap is at least 10 strokes higher or lower than yours.
For example, a 5-handicapper should seek a partner who carries a 15. So far so good, but there's more to it than mere numbers. The 15 won't do you much good if he is the Steady Eddie type who shoots 90 by making 18 straight bogeys. He must be the Wild Willie sort who gets a handful of pars each round, pars that become net birdies. Presumably, the 5-handicapper is getting the pars; what he needs from a partner are net birdies.
He also needs a partner with the right kind of temperament. The best partnership is one in which both players know their capabilities and limitations, and have the patience to play their normal games. Too often the high-handicap partner gets frustrated because he isn't helping the team and the low handicapper gets frustrated because he isn't getting any help. When that happens, the team invariably loses.
Another thing a team can do without is a player with a low boiling point. There are countless golfers who, after hitting a couple of bad shots, fall to pieces and are virtually worthless to the team thereafter. And there are an equal number of players who can sense this weakness in an opponent and quickly take advantage of it with some adroit needling. Avoid the partner who loses his cool.
Temperament--or attitude--is an intangible thing, but if it is present in the right proportions, it can produce tangible results. Call it a winning attitude. A winner doesn't have to be a bad guy, but he is a little meaner and tougher than most when he has to be; certainly, he doesn't get soft-hearted or careless when he gets his opponents a couple of holes down. A classic example was the odd-couple partnership of Ben Hogan and Jimmy Demaret, who won a number of four-ball titles together. Hogan would often chide Demaret for joking with the gallery and seemingly having his mind elsewhere than on the match. "But Ben," Demaret would say, "we've got these guys 3 down!" To which Hogan would respond, "Yeah, but if we pay attention to business we can get them 6 down." That's a winning attitude.
Knowledge pays off
It helps if you have some knowledge of how your prospective partner achieved his handicap. If it is based on scores shot in casual weekend rounds, when nothing much was at stake an most short putts were conceded, it might be a bit low. A player whose handicap is based mostly on competitive rounds and who is accustomed to holing short putts under pressure will likely be more reliable.
Until a few months ago, the difficulty of a player's home course was a decisive factor, the theory being that a man with a 15-handicap at a Pine Valley would be considerably tougher than one whose handicap was built at a hazard-free municipal course. However, the various state and regional golf associations are re-rating their courses as part of the USGA's Slope System, which will help eliminate the "portability" advantage that once existed.
Another type of partner to avoid is the golfer with an extremely high handicap, meaning 30 or above. The USGA Handicap System has a built-in element called "bonus for excellence," which reduces the potential of such players. A handicap is 96 percent of the difference between a golfer's average and the Course Rating (excluding the Slope factor in this example). the higher the handicap, the less chance there is of overcoming that difference.
Knowledgeable first-tee manipulators look for a partner who is improving or who is on a hot streak. If a player's handicap has dropped two or three strokes this season, he could be a good addition to your side--unless, of course, the Peter Principle applies and he's reached his level of incompetence.
Nobody has been able to reduce golf to a science, but some have tried and one of them is Dr. Clyne Soley, a member of the USGA Handicap Research Team. Dr. Soley has done a lot of work in the area of potential handicaps, and it is his contention that we all have the potential to score better than we do, simply by improving our short games. His theory is that the farther you drive the ball the greater your potential, so it follows that long hitters with handicaps much higher than ther potential make good partners. Which is another way of saying that a 20-handicapper who can reach the par-3s is an ideal partner.
Another member of the USGA Handicap Research Team, Dr. Francis Scheid, a professor of mathematics at Boston University, has done an incredible amount of testing, which generally supports the position that a 10-stroke difference between partner's handicaps is preferable. A 5 should seek out a 15, but a 15 should look for a partner whose handicap is 5 rather than 25. The differential should be 10, but one partner should have a reasonably low handicap. A 15 and a 25 would be ineffective together because neither is steady enough to get the necessary pars when the other is in trouble. This 10-stroke differential applies generally to players in the 5- to 20-handicap range. A scratch player, for instance, would probably do better with a 15-handicap partner than with a 10.
Studying four-man teams
Dr. Scheid has also researched four-man teams, a grouping most often found in a pro-amateur competition. In many tournaments, the teams consist of an A player (handicap of 3 to 7), B (8-12), C (13-17) and D (18-22), making each team relatively equal in strength. but when teams are allowed to put together their own combinations, it's possible to gain an advantage by studying Dr. Scheid's findings. They show that a team composed entirely of A players would have an edge on a team of C players, but would not fare as well as a team of B players. According to Dr. Scheid, the best combination would be a team whose composition is BBDD. Next, a full stroke behind in potential, would be a team of AACC, closely followed by AABB and AADD. This research is not to be dismissed lightly, based as it is on the study of thousands of tournament scores.
A member at Baltusrol Golf Club once advanced a theory that may be somewhat less scientific, but is no less intriguing. It is called the P-over-C formula for finding a good partner. P equals Potential, which is the number of strokes a player's best score of his last 20 rounds beat his USGA Handicap. C equals Choke, which is the number of strokes his worst score of the last 20 exceeded his handicap. Divide P by C; the player with the largest number is the best partner.
Here's how it works: a 15-handicapper has a low score of 81 in his last 20 rounds (six strokes under his handicap) and a high score of 97 (10 strokes above his handicap). P would equal 6 and C would equal 10, so P over C would be 6/10 or .6. Now let's assume that a 20-handicapper has a low of 84 and a high of 100 in his last 20 rounds. That works out to P equals 8 and C equals 8, so P over C would be 1. Since 1 is larger than .6, the 20-handicapper is the better partner.
All these theories are worth exploring to improve your weekend won-lost record. But there remains a couple of considerations beyond the numbers.
Most important, your partner should be someone you enjoy playing golf with. Camaraderie may not make you any money, but neither will an adversary relationship with your partner. Also, he should be competitive enough to be aware of what is happening in the match an on what holes he receives strokes. the partner who makes a 6 and then says, "Gee, I forgot I got a stroke on that hole," is worthless to you. And finally, he should be a player who, no matter how great his handicap, can summon up that little bit of adrenaline and save his par when you need it desperately.