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GHIN and Tonic

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Lemme get this straight. I can get a game, any time, anywhere, with anyone?
 
Yes indeed, say the supporters of the nations golf handicap system. For all intents and purposes, thats the U.S. Golf Association, the developer of the most widely accepted formula for calculating a numerical measurement of the difference between two golfers abilities. Thats developer, and still champeen: The USGA has been vindicated in a number of court cases in which it upbraided those who would try to modify or appropriate its formula and use it to sell handicap services.
 
But as long as you calculate handicaps in accordance with the USGA formula, what you get is a USGA Handicap. Within those constraints, you can compute the number any way you like.
 
We basically say, Heres the manual, go ahead, says Kevin OConnor, senior director of handicapping at the USGA. Anyone is free to develop handicapping software.
 
There are five major computation systems in use for the approximately 5.5 million U.S. golfers who keep handicaps. The most popular is the Golf Handicap Information Network, or GHIN. (In-the-know golf folks say the H is silent.)
 
To me, a longtime devotee of the idea of a world community of golf, the best thing about GHIN is the limitless peer review. Thats right: If you have the GHIN number, or even just the name, of a golfer who keeps a handicap, you can look up that persons Handicap Index and check out the last 20 scores he or she posted. Just go to www.GHIN.com and go to town.
 
Who can resist?
 
Consider your golf Freedom of Information Act request filed. Herewith, Handicap Indexes of a number of prominent golfing Americans:
 
Where to start, where to start? How about with the USGA? Executive director David Fay is a solid 9.4 at three clubs in northern New Jersey. Current president Reed Mackenzie, a veteran member at Hazeltine in Chaska, Minn., is a 6.3. And I know for a fact hes upset that its that high.
 
PGA Tour boss Tim Finchem is a 4.4 at the TPC at Sawgrass (where else?). Of course, hes too busy to play much, but hes known to be a physical fitness fan, so its not surprising he can keep it low.
 
Presidents? We got em, sort of. Former president George H.W. Bush (41 to his pals) isnt listed in GHIN, but Babs has a 32.6 at Cape Arundel in Maine. Possible future president and Florida governor Jeb Bush is a 9.9 at Capital City CC in Tallahassee. His brother (43 to his pals) is too busy for golf, and with good reason.
 
No record of a handicap for Gerald Ford. There are four people named Jimmy Carter in Georgia with Handicap Indexes ranging from 8.6 to 18.8. I called the Carter Center, the headquarters in Atlanta from which the former president organizes his efforts against war, hunger and poverty. The press people admitted this was different than the usual media inquiry, and said they would get back to me when they could. Considering the work Carter does now, I can forgive that callback for never getting here.
 
I didnt find a handicap for Bill Clinton, but there is a Butch Clinton in Fayetteville, Ark. with an Index of 38.6. Finally, someone I have to give strokes.
 
Actors and other bright-lights types: Kevin Costner doesnt have one. Somehow Im disappointed. Neither does George Clooney. But Matt Damon is a 17.9. Matt Lauer: 5.7 at Deepdale. Katie Couric:: No handicap.
Donald Trump: +0.9 at Winged Foot, but get this: He hasnt posted for more than a year, and then he shot 100. Cmon, Donald; wheres the first tee?
 
Atlanta Braves pitcher John Smoltz is a stick: 1.1 at four different Atlanta-area clubs. Golf duels with his teammates are the stuff of dugout legend, and no wonder: Tom Glavine is a 4.2 at two clubs (Smoltz is a member at both. Ace Greg Maddux isnt listed, though.
 
Casey Martin is too good to worry about handicaps, of course. But dad King is an 11.1 at Eugene (Ore.) CC, and brother Cameron is +0.1. Five a side for the old man? Or should we just play off Caseys +6, or whatever it is? The fourth might be Caseys lawyer, Bill Wiswall, who is a 10.9 at Eugene.
 
Golf industry types: Acushnet chief Wally Uihlein is a 5.0. Barney Adams, always a serious player, is a 7.6 at Preston Trails in Dallas. TaylorMade-adidas Golfs Jim Stutts is at 17.0. No handicaps reported for Callaway chief Ron Drapeau (nor for any of the Callaway brass); same deal for the Solheim family at Ping.
 
And since I knew youd ask: Brian Hammons: 8.1; Jennifer Mills: 16.4; Mike Ritz: 5.2; Dave Marr III: 7.0 (at Shinnecock); Kraig Kann: 6.0 (and he has kids). The others are either too good or too lazy to turn in scores.
 
There are about 26 million golfers in the United States, and it appears that handicaps are important to only about 20 percent. Itd be nice if there were more. It only costs a few bucks per year, and its one more way golfers are held together by a web of interest and enthusiasm. Golfers arent a bunch of solitary joggers in the park or bouncers on separate aerobics mats. A few sandbaggers may try to spoil the fun occasionally, but the honor system generally works. We have the makings of a worldwide fraternity here.
 
Hm? Whats that? I cant hear youyou want to know what? Hang on; I think we have a bad connection
 
Oh, all right. Its 26.0. But Im getting better! (And I carry the card, just to make sure I dont get lynched if I happen to string together a couple pars.)