When You Don't Play All the Holes

The “X” Factor

or What To Do When You Don’t Play All the Holes

Adapted by Barbara Holst from an article by Kevin O’Connor


Peggy spent the spring months looking forward to playing golf following surgery.  After months of anticipation, she and Karen participated in a partner’s tournament.  However, she played far worse than the 17.0 Handicap Index with which she'd finished last season. She picked up on seven holes when her playing partner, Karen, played like a champ. On top of that, the group only finished 16 holes before dark.  A scorecard with seven X's left Peggy despondent that she not only held the team back, but could not post the round as the handicap committee expected.

Fortunately, Karen knew better and informed Peggy that the USGA Handicap System's provisions allow any player the opportunity to post a score almost any time she tees it up. That's especially useful to a player who is out of a hole and picks up to speed up play.

Section 4 deals with these types of postings:

  • Incomplete holes. Section 4-1 of the USGA Handicap System states, "If a player starts but does not complete a hole or is conceded a stroke, he shall record for handicap purposes the score he most likely would have made. The most likely score consists of the number of strokes already taken plus, in his best judgment, the number of strokes that the player would need to complete the hole from that position more than half the time. The most likely score should be preceded by an 'X.'

Peggy was 15 feet from the hole in two at the par-3 fourth when Karen holed out from a bunker for birdie. As she pocketed her ball, Peggy determined that she probably would have two-putted at least half of the time, so she replaced that X with an X-4.

  • Shortened rounds. According to Section 4-2, "If a player does not play a hole or plays it other than under the principles of the Rules of Golf (except for preferred lies), his score for that hole for handicap purposes shall be par plus any handicap strokes he is entitled to receive on the hole."

Using the allocation of handicap strokes from the scorecard, her Course Handicap of 18 and each hole's par meant Peggy replaced those last X's with an X-6 and X-5. Peggy picked up at the 14th instead of playing her eighth shot from a bunker. Figuring she most likely would have made a 10, her Course Handicap of 18 meant she had an Equitable Stroke Control limit of 7. Peggy erased the X and put down X-7.


Although not happy with a 101, Peggy could post it in the computer. She realized the two-step process was simple - determine her most likely score on a hole, then see if it exceeded her Equitable Stroke Control maximum. If there was a lesson, it was that she didn't necessarily have to post a big number.

Peggy left the course proud of the few holes where she had contributed to the team, and vowing that the next time her play proved less than satisfactory she would still post a proper score.