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A simple scoring system to record statistics

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I frequently get asked the question, “What statistics can I use to measure my entire game?”

The issue is that while there are many advanced methods of statistics to use, they are often very cumbersome and golfers tend to forget to record their score, take too long to record the metrics, or end up inaccurately recording their metrics. That leads to a skewed analysis of their game.

I’ve done countless hours of research on the game, and usually have a pretty good idea on how I performed in each area after a round, but I still use certain metrics to assist with that analysis so I can schedule my practice accordingly.

One of the main scores I like to keep is a metric I created in the 2013 Pro Golf Synopsis called the 15/5 Score. The scoring system goes like this:

  • Give yourself +1 point if your par save is within 5 feet of the hole.
  • Give yourself +2 points if you have a birdie opportunity inside 15 feet of the hole.
  • Give yourself +3 points if you have an eagle opportunity inside 15 feet of the hole.
  • Take away -3 points if your par save is not within 5 feet of the hole.

For bogey shooters, you can alter this score by giving yourself +1 point if your bogey putt is within 5 feet of the hole and use that as the baseline.

I also only give one set of points for each hole. If I have a 12-foot birdie putt and hit the putt 6-feet past the cup, I only give myself +2 points for the birdie putt inside 15 feet.  This is important to note because we can better decipher our putting skill using this methodology. I will go into that later in this article.

Another thing I like to keep track of is what I call “impedes.” These are any of the following:

  • Ball goes O.B.
  • Ball goes into the water
  • Ball goes into a fairway bunker
  • Ball goes into the tall rough
  • Ball goes into the trees
  • Anytime I have to hit above, below or around a tree
  • Ball ends up in a divot
  • Ball is plugged in a greenside bunker
  • Ball goes into the greenside bunker on a par-3

I call them impedes because these are all shots where advancing the ball is impeded.  Even if I’m behind a tree and can fairly easily clear the tree and put the ball on the green, I consider that an impede because that tree is still obstructing my advancement of the ball to the hole. 

As far as the ball going into a divot, it is about things that impede your advancement to the hole, not about what is fair. You will find that when you can limit your impedes, you will often shoot a much better score than you typically would performing the same way from tee to green.

The other metrics I keep are:

  • Fairway Hit
  • Green In Regulation Hit
  • Scramble
  • Putts on the Hole

I am NOT a big fan of those metrics because they are woefully incomplete and misleading. But, combined with your total score, impedes and the 15/5 Score, we can better deduct how well we performed in certain parts of the game. These aren’t time consuming or cumbersome, but they can be very helpful metrics to record.  

Here is an analysis of the points system of a recent round I completed. I will give my analysis of each round as well:

Screen Shot 2015-03-18 at 5.09.08 PM

Click the table to enlarge.

With the 15/5 Score, typically +10 will equate to around even par. This in part makes the analytics fairly easy; if the 15/5 score is at +10 and I shot above par, then we know that it was likely due to short game and putting miscues. Conversely, if I shoot even par and have a 15/5 score of less than +10, then we know that I was likely getting hot with the putter. 

If I were to make a 25-foot putt for birdie, my 15/5 score would only be +1, but I still made the birdie. On the flip side, if I hit a chip shot to 3 feet and miss the putt and make bogey, my 15/5 score is still +1 and hence it helps dictate how well we are striking the ball versus how well we are putting.

In the scenario above, it is a little less clear since I shot 73 (2-over par), but had a 15/5 score of +6. This would indicate that my ball striking and short game/putting were in balance. Given that I shot a score of 2-over, my 15/5 score should have been around +6. 

My total score was 2-over, so in order to improve upon that it usually means that the ball striking has to improve. When looking at the driving, I hit 9 out of 14 fairways which is not bad. More importantly, I only had two impeded shots. Upon further inspection, I played those holes where I had an impeded shot at -1-under. Therefore, the impeded shots were not overly damaging and I think it is safe to say that my driving was fine for this round, or at least not the reason why I did not break par.

We can then get a better idea of the iron play by looking at the Greens In Regulation (GIR). Since I was hitting the driver fairly well, I should have a good amount of GIR — and I did end up hitting 11 out of 18 Greens. But just as important, we need to look at the corresponding 15/5 scores per hole because hitting it close is more important than finding the green. 

I hit a nice streak of hitting shots close on Nos. 8, 9 and 10 as I hit each shot inside 15 feet and converted the birdie try. Also, notice on the front nine that I had only 13 putts, which would be considered very good, but I had 19 putts on the back nine. That’s considered poor. However, I also hit 7 greens in regulation on the back nine. Furthermore, after the 10th hole, 5 out of the 6 GIR resulted in scores of +1 according to the 15/5 score, which means that I was hitting greens, but not hitting shots very close.

This gives an indication that my putting can stand room for improvement, but I had bigger issues with my performance with the irons. It was a bit windy that day, which makes it difficult to get approach shots close to the hole. But based on this round, I would say that iron play and putting should be given more focus.

Here’s a round from European Tour player Jamie Donaldson at the South Course at Torrey Pines:

Screen Shot 2015-03-18 at 5.16.34 PM

Click the table to enlarge.

We can see that Donaldson’s 15/5 Score was -1, while he shot even par for the round.  Again, since his 15/5 score was low for his score, that indicates that his short game shots around the green and/or his putting was likely very good. And we can see that was clearly the case as Donaldson only hit 5/14 fairways, 10/18 Greens in Regulation and had two impeded shots. 

On the flip side, he only had 27 putts and was 7 of 8 in scramble opportunities. We also see that Donaldson did not strike it well on the front nine, as his 15/5 Score was -10.  On the back nine, however, he was far better as his 15/5 score was +9. 

While I think there is the potential to have more accurate ways to analyze your entire game, I find the method I use to be very simple and practical. For bogey shooters, they can use the same type of 15/5 score, but they may want to alter the scoring system by 1 stroke (i.e. +2 points for a par putt inside 15 feet, +1 point for bogey putt inside 5 feet, etc). This still allows for the bogey golfer to accurately analyze their game, but also stresses the main point of the 15/5 Score — getting the ball closer to the hole.

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Richie Hunt is a statistician whose clients include PGA Tour players, their caddies and instructors in order to more accurately assess their games. He is also the author of the recently published e-book, 2017 Pro Golf Synopsis; the Moneyball Approach to the Game of Golf. He can be reached at ProGolfSynopsis@yahoo.com or on Twitter @Richie3Jack. GolfWRX Writer of the Month: March 2014 Purchase 2017 Pro Golf Synopsis E-book for $10

33 Comments

33 Comments

  1. Gus

    Mar 25, 2015 at 3:39 pm

    Stats keeping should be at a minimum during a round. All I keep is Score / GIR or Score / Putts then after the round I can interpret the results.

    If my score is 5 on a par 5 with 3 putts then I know I reached the green in 2 and 3-putter for par. The good – I can teach a par 5 in 2 with 2 good shots. The bad – 3 putt. It doesn’t matter if I 3-putter within 15 feet or 25 feet – putting is putting and we should always 2-putt to finish.

    If my score was 1 putt on any given hole, then it’s a positive stat regardless if I was putting for a birdie or putting to save triple bogey.

    If I wanted to assign a scoring system for these results, it should be applied after the round, not during!

  2. Drew

    Mar 24, 2015 at 9:35 pm

    Good stuff. Not too complicated (despite what others are saying), and gives some good analysis. People could modify this to fit their game as well. Thanks Rich!

  3. Murph

    Mar 23, 2015 at 3:21 pm

    I am not entirely sold on how these statistics help an average golfer. I am not hitting it within 15 feet 90% of the time and I am happy to just be on the green or around the green close enough for a chip. I don’t need involved stats to tell me I need to drive the ball in the fairway or avoid penalty strokes. While I appreciate the benefit of stats for a more accomplished player, I just don’t get what they do for a bogey golfer or even a 10 handicap.

    • Jeremy

      Mar 23, 2015 at 8:25 pm

      With all due respect, not every article or tip is for every golfer. Golf goes to great lengths to quantify (to several decimal places) how good you are at hitting a little white ball around a park, and for some people it’s really fun to look at the statistics from a new angle. If you’re not that interested, perhaps you’ll never be all that good, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Most of us probably fall into that category. It’s all about enjoying yourself, in the end.

      That’s why lot of this has to do with being less hard on yourself as well. It enables you to say “shoot, if only that one aspect of my game hadn’t been off I’d have shot my best round ever.” Makes it easier to swallow that three putt on 18 when you feel like, overall, you’re pretty good at hitting that ball. Maybe then instead of going to the range and pounding balls one night next week you’ll just hit some putts instead, and next weekend it’ll all come together.

  4. Jafar

    Mar 23, 2015 at 11:22 am

    This isn’t bad. A good starting point for others to build off of.

    Thanks for sharing this. I will attempt to make my own scoring system to help analyze and tune parts of my game.

  5. dapadre

    Mar 23, 2015 at 6:00 am

    This to me is analysis paralysis. This may be of great help to that borderline pro or aspiring pro, but the golf enthusiast I doubt. To be honest i have found GIR, Fairways hit, No. putts of greater importance and assistance. Also I used a new device from a friend that charted my shots and after a while I could see which shots were impeding my score of which I needed to work on.

    Also its says simple, Im sorry but I didnt find it simple.

  6. Sean

    Mar 22, 2015 at 6:48 pm

    I used to keep statistics, but found it really didn’t make a difference one way or the other. Now, I only keep my score. It also takes the pressure off if I miss a fairway, green or whatever. I don’t get caught up in my statistics and just play golf.

    • Connor

      Mar 23, 2015 at 1:13 am

      Word.

    • Murph

      Mar 23, 2015 at 3:24 pm

      I agree with you. I think keeping involved stats like this force your mind to focus on the negative things that can happen related to the shot you are about to hit. I do believe in FIR and GIR to a certain extent only because the higher those two numbers…..especially GIR…..the lower my score is.

  7. OG

    Mar 21, 2015 at 6:14 pm

    Good information, but it’s not too hard too figure out if I shoot 80 and hit 12 greens that my putter was off or didn’t get up and down well that round.

  8. JT

    Mar 21, 2015 at 4:21 pm

    Here is my simple system: score goes in the box for the hole, and then, in this same single box, I mark the following
    – check (hit), x (missed), or “OB” in top left for fairway
    – check, x, or OB in top right for green
    – number of putts in bottom right

    This gives new the most relevant stats, and it’s really fast so it keeps me focused on play – not stats or mechanics in round.

  9. ShakeNBake

    Mar 21, 2015 at 1:25 pm

    My last round, I shot even with a 15/5 score of -15 and 7 impediments. Does this mean I am secretly terrible?

  10. Jake Anderson

    Mar 21, 2015 at 10:15 am

    i am sorry, but this system is too complicated.
    i think it would suffice to keep, GIR, and O.B. (which type of shot went O.B.).

  11. RG

    Mar 21, 2015 at 5:16 am

    Check mark=fairway hit
    X= GIR
    U= Up and down
    F= Putt from fringe if holed
    B= Bunker shot holed
    Number of putts and distance
    Score on hole
    It will all fit in the boxes below your score

  12. Tom D

    Mar 21, 2015 at 12:21 am

    I don’t find counting putts very helpful. If I’m chipping onto the green and chipping well, I’ll get the ball close enough to make a 1-putt likely. However, if I’m getting on a lot of greens in regulation, I’m probably landing pretty far from the hole. This means that a 1-putt is very unlikely. In either case, the number of putts says more about my ball-striking than about my putting.

    To give me some real feedback on how I’m putting, I use a variation of “strokes gained – putting”. If my first putt is within 6ft of the hole, a 1-putt is zero strokes gained, a 2-putt is one stroke lost and a 3-putt is two strokes lost. If my first putt is over 6ft from the hole, a 1-putt is one stroke gained, a 2-putt is zero strokes gained and a 3-putt is one stroke lost. Add up all strokes gained and subtract all strokes lost. The total is how well I putted. A positive number is good, a negative number, not so good.

    As you get better, change the dividing line from 6ft to 10ft!

  13. chris franklin

    Mar 20, 2015 at 5:08 pm

    I wish my club had “cartboys”
    I’m tired of seeing those floozies

  14. Brutus

    Mar 20, 2015 at 2:22 pm

    I keep 2 stats the work for me. When they’re used in combo with the score I card for a hole, it tells me enough that when I look back a year later I can pretty much know exactly how I did. And it’s all estimating as I don’t want to get too anal for exact distances. First is how long the shot that found the green was. The second is the length of my first 2 putts and underline a putt that goes in.

    Say if the distance is 150, I can easily figure out if it was a GIR or had major problems just getting to 150 to hit the green. If it’s 5 yards from off the green I know if my approach(es) sucked. (Used with the putting numbers, I can tell how I’m chipping too.) I can tell all I need by the length of my first 2 putts and if I made one of them. If I 3 putt, I don’t really give a flip about how I “nailed that 3rd stroke from 2-1/2 feet”… since the first 2 tell where the problems of the 3 putt sin lies.

    I don’t see the need to “record” if my drives or approaches go right, left, or worse. Odds are most players know their general tendencies and to work to get accurate stats on that is a waste of time merely to confirm it. And if I don’t see many approaches written down from say outside 120 yards, then I know about where I’m beginning struggling with my irons.

    It shouldn’t hold up the game as it takes me less time to enter up to 3 numbers than for just 1 person in my group to tee off on the next tee… and I can still spot their drive.

    • Rich Hunt

      Mar 20, 2015 at 3:38 pm

      I don’t think it is too hard to figure out the distances of 15 feet and 5 feet. If you’re at 5-feet 4-inches and record it as 5-feet, I don’t see it as a travesty of inaccuracy. I think it is easy to record on the course and easy to remember if you’re recording it after the round.

  15. John

    Mar 20, 2015 at 2:20 pm

    I personally think stats tracking isn’t a reason for slow play. Most GPS apps can keep stats and inserting them takes about a minute, or about the time it takes to cart over from the previous green to the next tee. Slow play is because most people (and I’m guilty of this at times as well) think they’re better than they actually might be, and so each shot matters a bit more than it should. Tourney/professional play, I understand. But there’s absolutely no reason, unless you’re playing for your life, that you should take more than 30 seconds to read a simple putt. Especially when you’re just gonna blow it by 5 feet anyways.

  16. birdeez

    Mar 20, 2015 at 1:49 pm

    i really don’t see whats not simple about this.

    the explanation is long and involved, but the actual scoring of 15/5 system is as simple as it gets…..unless you were brought up on Common Core math, then you might have some trouble.

    i’ll be giving this a shot

  17. Mat

    Mar 20, 2015 at 12:21 pm

    Get GameGolf or Arccos and move on from 20th century stats.

    • Rich Hunt

      Mar 20, 2015 at 12:36 pm

      I don’t think the 15/5 Score is a ’20th century stat.’ Neither do I think impedes are ’20th century stats.’ I’m not a fan of GIR or even fairways hit. And I feel that with the 15/5 score and your actual score you can get a pretty good idea whether your ballstriking or putting/short game is the issue. But, if you are looking for more detail, then you can use impedes, fwys and GIR to get a better idea of how you performed in driving vs. iron play vs. short game shots around the green vs. putting.

  18. AGF

    Mar 20, 2015 at 11:47 am

    This is why it takes 4.5 hours+ to play golf: guys keeping ‘stats’ on the course. Please. If you have to do this, do it at home; it’s not hard to remember later and the other members of your foursome won’t think you’re a nut…

    • me

      Mar 20, 2015 at 12:25 pm

      No I think the guys that keep stats are the more serious golfers who are very self aware of their pace of play. The reason you get rounds that take 4.5+ hours is due to the people who don’t understand “ready golf” and stand there at the tee waiting for the guy who parred the last hole, but he’s too busy checking his cell phone. Or the guys who stop the cart girl and take 5 min to get beers. Or the ones who absolutely won’t hit until someone who is 1 yard further hits (even if on the opposite side of the fairway). Or the guys who take 10 minutes at the turn. Or the guy who shanks the ball, and then takes 3 or 4 “post shank” practice swings to diagnose what happened, and then spends all day looking for the ball he shanked.

      I see this stuff every weekend when I’m out with my friends and I find myself constantly saying, just go ahead and hit man. It’s super annoying. And then their excuse is that the people in front of them are slow so they can’t go anywhere.

      • Rich Hunt

        Mar 20, 2015 at 12:33 pm

        I agree with ‘me.’ Recently I had to play a 5-hour 45-minute round and we waited every shot. The guys I were paired up with only played golf about once a year. They certainly weren’t keeping their stats and we were waiting every shot anyway.

        I think the issue is people don’t understand the pace of play and how important it is to let faster players play thru. I think that is the very basic, rudimentary problem to the entire issue. The other big issues I see is that golf balls are expensive and courses are more designed to lose golf balls and people end up searching for them which takes time.

      • Mark Reischer

        Mar 20, 2015 at 5:23 pm

        There is a very good book written about pace of play. There are many factors that contribute to slow play and only 1 of them is the actual golfer. (I think it’s called the Pace of Play Bible, but I don’t remember 100%)

        Other factors include: tee time spacing, location of bathrooms/water stations, cart path routes, is there a beverage cart?, does the beverage cart drive around?, etc, etc

        Usually yes, people play slow but if all other issues were fixed at every single course, even the slow players wouldn’t be holding anybody up

    • rymail00

      Mar 21, 2015 at 6:05 pm

      Though I can’t see myself doing this every round, I can’t see how this would add extra time to around. Your marking 6-7 numbers on a scorecard along with your score. If your on the green putting you know if your 5 feet from the hole or outside of it. You don’t have to actually measure or anything that would add extra time. Your either inside the 5 or 15 or not.

      Its to bad. It just seems every article written brings WAAAAAAY more negative posts then then 90% of the threads on WRX. I wonder if it’s because people can use names different from their screen name. This is just a general statement and a response to the post I’m replying to.

  19. Roody

    Mar 20, 2015 at 11:38 am

    I think it’s simpler to, and prefer only tracking fairways (hit, left, right, miss), and number of putts. Any more than that and I feel it would take too long, and be more information than most of us would need anyways.

  20. Philip

    Mar 20, 2015 at 11:15 am

    I have no issue with stats as long as it takes no thought process to log and works against me staying in the zone. I’ll first add impedes and once I have incorporated that stat, I’ll work on adding the 15/5 or a my own take on it.

    Simple to see how you have down after a round.
    Like it, thanks

  21. Ryan O.

    Mar 20, 2015 at 11:05 am

    May be to complicated for most. I use the strokes gained system. Easy with this website http://www.strokesgainedgolf.com/?logged_in=Yes

    • Rich Hunt

      Mar 20, 2015 at 12:44 pm

      There is a multitude of issues with the ‘strokes gained’ formula as the shot gets further from the hole. I had this verified from a PhD in Economics, a PhD in Mathematics and an Ivy League statistics graduate. All of them liked the strokes gained metric for putting, but as the shot is further from the hole, there are too many unaccounted variables that can greatly offset the accuracy of the measurement. For instance, a shot from 100 yards from the rough on 1 hole may be greatly different in terms of difficulty than a shot from 100 yards on another hole. Or that roughly 25% of the par-4’s on Tour have no real benefit to hitting the ball further off the tee because of penalties (hazards, trees, bunkers, etc) that are easier to hit as the ball is hit further off the tee. Also, the conditions of the courses play a large factor as studies done by David Orr show, faster greens generally yield higher make percentages on the green which would greatly alter ‘strokes gained – putting’ from the average amateur that usually plays slower greens. I would imagine the same goes for other conditions as a round recorded by Steve Marino at a local muni course showed where Marino ‘only’ shot 68 (-4) and said (paraphrasing) ‘I would likely never go real low at a muni course because the conditions make the course too unpredictable.’

  22. Ryan S.

    Mar 20, 2015 at 10:33 am

    This is simple!?

    • me

      Mar 20, 2015 at 12:12 pm

      The scoring itself is pretty simple and shouldn’t hinder your round while playing. The analysis takes some brain power. But seems worth it if you really want to understand what’s going on with your game. I may give it a try for a few rounds

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The 19th Hole: Mark Rolfing and architect David Kidd on Carnoustie’s challenges

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It’s Open Championship week at Carnoustie! This week, Michael Williams hosts NBC and Golf Channel analyst Mark Rolfing and award-winning architect David Kidd (Bandon Dunes) to talk about how the pros will try to tame “Car-nasty.” It also features Jaime Darling of Golf Scotland on the many attractions around Carnoustie outside the golf course.

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes!

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How often should you actually get “Up-and-Down” based on your handicap?

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‘Up and Downs’ have long been the accepted measure of skill in the short game. The chart below shows average performance in this area for the PGA Tour and an array of handicap levels. How do you fit in?

A few points of definition: The above refers to short game shots around the green, other than from the sand. [Stay tuned: sand shots will be my next article.] I consider the short game to be all shots from within 50 yards of the hole. This distance was a topic of debate 30 years ago when I was developing my golf analysis program. I was fortunate to be working with Golf Digest Golf Schools and some of the top instructors were good enough to embrace the better form of game analysis that I was creating. In particular, I owe a great deal to Chuck Cook, Jack Lumpkin and Hank Johnson. Their help and encouragement in my early stages gave me a much needed boost of momentum. Little did we know that what I then called “Strokes Lost and Saved” would ultimately become the accepted standard of analysis on the PGA Tour — now know as “Strokes Gained.” Anyway, we agreed that 50 yards was the right distance range for the short game for two reasons:

  1. It represented the short game for virtually every handicap level, men and women.
  2. It was a short enough distance that it didn’t need to be sliced even further.

That said, I do NOT believe that “Up and Downs” are an appropriate or accurate measure of short game skill for two reasons:

  1. It represents the combination of two skills: Short Game and Putting.
  2. It ignores the ERRORS or shots that actually miss the green.

In my 30+ years of studying performance at all skill levels, I have found that it is the FREQUENCY and SEVERITY of bad shots (errors) that do more to influence a player’s scoring level than do all the good shots. Accordingly, I built the ability to capture data on the common errors in the game into ShotByShot.com.

The true measure of a player’s short game skill is their Strokes Gained in that facet. BUT, that is simply a number — a positive number is good and a negative number, not so much. But how then to best display the skill that is associated with the Strokes Gained number? I believe the combination of three stats to be the correct way to display short game skill:

  • Average putting distance, when the green is successfully hit.
  • Percent shots hit to within 5 feet of the hole
  • Percent errors, or shots that miss the putting surface.

Where does your game fall in these two important categories?

Note, that the two lines cross at about a 16 handicap. That is actually a better than average golfer yet for every Chip/Pitch shot that they successfully get to within 5 feet of the hole, they are also chunking or sculling one and missing the green altogether. Work to dramatically reduce the errors and that 16 will drop to 12 or 13?

You might ask: How can the PGA Tour make more errors than the scratch golfer? Good question! I have two explanations:

  1. They really are that good! Regardless of the relative difficulty of the shot, Tour players will go for it. They have the confidence that when they miss they will get the next up and down. At the same time, the amateur that has reached the lofty level of Scratch has generally done so thru rigorous consistency and the avoidance of errors. At the low handicap levels, a bogey can be acceptable but a mistake that results in a double is NOT.
  2. The tour Shotlink data considers the fringe of the green to be a miss whereas I recommend that players count the fringe as a green hit and a putting opportunity. Your long game has been efficient enough to get there and should be rewarded with the GIR. At the same time, to count the shot from the fringe as a short game shot will unfairly reward your short game skill for what was actually a putt.

That reminds me again of my very early days when Chuck Cook said to me: “Pete, Tour players don’t make errors in the short game!”  See Chuck, I was right, they do! For a Complete Strokes Gained Analysis of your game, log on to: ShotByShot.com.

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Think Carnoustie’s hard? Try winning a title on it playing golf with one arm

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When things get challenging during the 147th Open this week on the Championship Course at Carnoustie Golf Links in Scotland, the players would do well to think of Mike Benning–specifically the fortitude he channeled into success at the venerable venue.

Benning grew up with golf at Congressional while his father, Bob, was head professional at the iconic country club in Bethesda, Md. Due to a rare form of cancer, Benning, who was already a top junior in the Washington, D.C. area, lost his left arm below the elbow to amputation at age 14.

Rather than let that stop him from playing, he learned to adapt. So much so that he won back-to-back Society of One-Armed Golfers world championships in 1993-94. The first win came at Seaford Golf Course in Sussex, England, in 1993. Benning defended his title at Carnoustie in 1994, the 56th and 57th renditions of the annual event, which began in the 1930s.

Benning was low medalist in stroke play at Seaford, shooting 80-81-161. With the top 16 finishers advancing to match play, Benning won four matches in two days to become champion. He went to Carnoustie the next year full of confidence but couldn’t find the form initially that carried him at Seaford, qualifying 10th in medal play.

“My game wasn’t on, and the course was brawny and fast,” Benning said this week from his home in Scituate, Mass. “The course was so dry it was grey, and it was windy. That makes Carnoustie very difficult, even more challenging than normal. I had a difficult draw in match play, but I found my game when it mattered most, and only one of my matches went to the 18th hole.”

In the championship match, Benning defeated Scotsman Brian Crombie of Dundee, a 25-minute drive from Carnoustie.

“He had about 50 friends and family members rooting him on, the crowd was definitely behind him,” Benning recalled. “But I had a couple Americans following me. One was Mike Gibson, who now works for Titleist. He came out wearing a pair of red plus fours and an American flag shirt. He and Mark Frace really propped me up. I remember having a big decision on the 10th hole – whether to try and get a 3-wood over the burn – so I turned and looked at those guys behind me, and they encouraged me to go for it. I cleared the burn and ended up 12 feet from the hole.”

Benning was an independent sales rep in the golf business before joining Hanger, Inc., the leading U.S. provider of prosthetics and orthotics, where he is currently Marketing Manager. He has played other Open Championship courses but calls Carnoustie’s Championship layout “probably the greatest risk-reward course” in the rota. “Seeing it on television doesn’t do justice to the demanding test of golf it presents players,” he said.

To underscore his assertion, Benning cited the 6th hole – “Hogan’s Alley” – named after 1953 Open Champion Ben Hogan. Here is the description for it from the Carnoustie Golf Links website. “Normally played into prevailing wind, this can be a severe par 5. Bunkers and out of bounds await the miss-cued drive and although the best line is up Hogan’s Alley between the bunkers and the out of bounds fence, it requires a brave player to drive to that narrow piece of fairway. The second shot is no less perilous with a ditch angling across the fairway and the out of bounds continuing to be a threat. The approach is reasonably straightforward to an undulating green, particular care must be taken if the pin is located on the back-right portion of the green. A player should always be content with a five on this hole as it can be the ruin of many a scorecard.”

Benning said the pair of fairway bunkers side by side on the 14th hole – known as “The Spectacles – have to be experienced to be understood how hard they play for those unfortunate enough to find them.

“I hit into one of them during a match and it was the only time I had to hit backwards out of a bunker during the championship,” Benning remembered. “The face of the bunker was unthinkably high.”

The closing holes at Carnoustie’s Championship Course – Nos. 16-18 – may be the most difficult finish in all major golf, particularly No. 18, named “Home”.

“Just ask Jean Van de Velde,” said Benning, referring to the Frenchman who led by three strokes going to final hole of the 1999 Open Championship. Van de Velde took triple bogey to fall back into a tie and playoff, which he lost to Paul Lawrie. No golf follower who watched the debacle can forget the image of Van de Velde standing in Barry’s Burn with his trouser bottoms rolled up, hands on hips, stunned disbelief etched on his face. Conversely, Lawrie’s final round 67 astounded Benning, who pointed out that the final round average score was significantly higher. The 18th also cost Johnny Miller the 1975 Open title, after Miller took two shots to get out of a fairway bunker on the hole.

Suffice it to say, Carnoustie will provide many of the world’s greatest players the chance for immortal golf glory this week, or demoralizing defeat. Maybe both. Whomever emerges as champion, Mike Benning will relate to the elation felt after prevailing on one of the game’s greatest courses.

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