What Is a Vanity Handicap in Golf?

"Vanity handicap" is a term applied to a golfer whose handicap index is lower than it should be because the golfer is finagling the numbers. That golfer is too vain, in other words, to admit to having a handicap that is slightly higher than what he claims.

A golfer whose true handicap should be, say, 8, but who claims to have a handicap of 5, is guilty of having a vanity handicap.

Another way of thinking of the vanity handicap is to say that it is the opposite of sandbagging. A golfer who is sandbagging is claiming to have a higher handicap than he should in order to increase the odds of his winning a net-score competition. A golfer whose true handicap level is 5, but who (through finagling the numbers) carries a handicap index of 10 is sandbagging. With a vanity handicap, however, the golfer is overestimating his ability because he doesn't want to admit what his true playing level is.

Sandbagging is considered a serious breach of golf protocol. Vanity handicaps are a much lesser offense — after all, the vanity handicap golfer is only hurting himself, not trying to cheat anyone.

And a vanity handicap doesn't have to involve any real, official World Handicap System scores. It could just apply to those first-tee bargaining sessions in which golfers try not to get pencil-whipped when setting the terms of a bet. For example, a golfer who ought to be asking a better opponent for five shots per side, but who doesn't want to admit that is his true skill level and so only asks for three shots per side, is guilty of having a vanity handicap.

When a golfer's handicap (official or claimed) is lower than it should be because the golfer is trying to appear better than he is, it's a vanity handicap.

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