Bless me Father for I have sinned; it’s been too long since I last had an official GUI handicap. There you have it, the truth’s out. I’ve been living a lie that not even 10 Hail Marys and 4 Our Fathers could atone. Admittedly Australia and London have derailed my fairway ambitions over the last few years and working at golf clubs meant getting a membership was unimportant when money could be spent elsewhere, but back on home soil since January, it’s high time I plucked up the courage to put three cards in the scorer’s box and hope my numbers spit out a single digit figure.
For me, unlike the lotto jackpot, my aim with a handicap has always been low. My last official handicap was 11 and although I always fancied myself as better than that, a 6.30am weekend shift pattern since Transition Year in school put paid to hopes of cutting it. Thus, my Major championship has always been the Liam Byrne Memorial trophy, played in honour of a best friend of my brother who died tragically when hit by a car in Australia in 2002. Like McIlroy and the elusive green jacket, I’ve wanted to win that trophy for my brother so badly that the weight of the occasion has always refused to let me do it.
Arriving at Carton House to the registration desk each year more in hope than expectation, you were asked your handicap by organisers as opposed to presenting it, a practice in-line with the ethics of the game of golf being upheld by its participants. Without fail, I’d utter the word ‘eleven’. It didn’t matter that I hadn’t held that official handicap since the age of 15, or whether or not I’d swung a club in the six months prior to the tournament, it was the only barometer I ever had to measure myself against the golf course. And although there’s many like me who deem these ethics paramount to the future of our game, it still seems there’s plenty who don’t.
A scandal hit my WhatsApp group over the weekend. Not sex, drugs or celebrity related, but golf themed. It involved a former 6 handicapper teeing up at a corporate event that will remain nameless. It was the individual’s first game of golf in four years and having lost his official handicap in that time, he too was confronted by the question, ‘what do you play off?’ In his defence, it had been four years. What he played off was hard to gauge and what he could reasonably expect to shoot was subjective. What handicap he asked for, and got, however, was not.
28 big ones, more shots to fire than an army of redcoats in a revolutionary standoff and the result was just as barbaric. With a €500 prize up for grabs and silverware to go with it, El Bandito took the spoils with 49 points. Imagine how the poor chap in second with a career-best 41 off 7 must’ve felt?
I’m with Sophocles when he said, “I would prefer even to fail with honour than to win by cheating”. In golf, although some will point to blurred lines, the right thing to do should always be in the eye of the beholder.