Equitable stroke control: Know how to use this USGA lifesaver

Equitable stroke control is a part of the USGA’s adjusted gross score guidelines – know how to make it work for you.

Equitable stroke control can be a lifesaver, especially if you’re prone to those occasional breakdowns on the golf course.

Most of you probably know what I’m talking about. We’ve all had those holes where nothing, absolutely nothing, seemed to go as it should. You start with an OB drive, progress to a topped shot in the fairway, overfly the green on your fourth shot because you adrenaline is surging – never mind what your temper is doing –  finally get on the putting surface with your 5th shot. You might be able to save bogey but then your putter takes leave of its senses. Four putts later you’re walking off that basically straightforward par-4 with a nine on the scorecard.

All kinds of situations can lead to this sort of madness.

I’m a very skilled bunker player. Long, long ago Mr. Billy taught me the secret to bunker play.

But last week I inexplicably couldn’t get out of a bunker. Actually, the problem came with the shot that put me in the bunker. I’d hit a killer drive on a little dogleg left par-4 on my home course. I absolutely crushed it, sent it soaring over the dogleg and landing it within 80 yards of the green. As I watched my ball fly I was thinking this hole would be a cakewalk birdie. Until I saw where my drive came to rest, under a tree, on hardpan, on the wrong side of the cart path.

Maybe it’s not a birdie any more, but it’s still a stress-free par. So I lined up with my 7-iron and had every intention of using a half swing to chip up onto the green. The plan was a good one but my mental preparation didn’t match the demands of the shot.

In my head I was already trying to get up and down and save that birdie so for one reason or another (poor alignment, didn’t follow through, buzzards flying overhead made shadows and disturbed my concentration) I ended up in a greenside bunker.

Then the fun really began. I was furious, distracted, and in a general snit. I turned what should have been an easy bunker shot and two putts for bogey into a scene right out of a disaster movie. Three shots later I was lying five in the rough on the back side of a green that sloped from back to front, about 40 yards from the cup.

Do I need to finish this story? Or do you just want me to cut to the finish?

Enter the USGA’s Equitable Stroke Adjustment

The USGA‘s Equitable Stroke Control (ESC) is a simple formula that saves us, sort of, from these blowups. ESC determines the maximum score a player can take on any given hole, depending on the player’s course handicap.

Equitable Stroke Control is one of several USGA ‘adjusted gross’ scoring guidelines. When you don’t finish a hole, there’s still a way to score that hole for USGA handicap purposes. Similarly, there’s a way to score conceded holes and holes not played under the Rules of Golf.

These are also handy things to know, but let’s stay with Equitable Stroke Control.

Simply put, there’s a maximum score any player can take for any given hole that’s determined by that player’s course handicap.

  • 9 or less – max is a double bogey
  • 10-19 – max is 7
  • 20-29 – max is 8
  • 30-39 – max is 9
  • 40+ – max is 10

Under the ESC guidelines my breakdown in the bunker and the disaster that followed wasn’t quite as awful as it could have been. I got bumped down to a triple and was saved the final humiliation of a snowman.

A small consolation in the heat of the moment, I agree, but an important adjustment to my final score, particularly if it happens more than once during a round.

When I can and when I can’t make use of ESC

In tournament play, ESC can’t be used to compute a player’s tournament score – the one that determines where one sits on the leaderboard – but it can and should be used to submit one’s score to the handicapping authority.

In other words, we can’t make use of this downward adjustment in competition. But we should always be willing to apply ESC adjustments to the scores we submit as rounds played. Nobody wants to get a reputation as a sandbagger!

Apply to ForeGals.

Start your application process by filling out the fields below

Follow us on Twitter @ForeGals to get more golf tips that will help you shave strokes off your scorecard.