Biden’s golf handicap explained after presidential debate stirs skills controversy

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Thursday night’s presidential debate hosted by CNN featured a topic that no one could’ve predicted—golf handicaps. 

President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump raised the issue when discussing their physical fitness and, in turn, their ability to serve as the head of state at the ages of 81 and 78, respectively. In the midst of that debate, Bide alleged that he had gotten his golf handicap down to a six as vice president, and later corrected it to an eight. 

Biden golfs

President Joe Biden plays golf at the Buccaneer Golf Course in St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands, on December 30, 2022.  (SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)

For any avid golfer, that number was particularly surprising. Trump himself didn’t believe it. 

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And so, an argument typically reserved for the course made its way to the debate stage. 

But to best understand the argument, you have to first understand the basics. 

What is a golf handicap?

A golf handicap, or a handicap index, is a numerical figure used to describe a player’s ability or potential. It represents how many strokes a player is expected to play above a particular course’s par. 

Professional golfers do not keep a handicap. 

Anywhere under 10 is considered low, under 18 is considered mid-range, and over 19 is high. A zero would be considered a scratch golfer. 

Biden’s estimated six or eight would mean he averages in the high 70s or low 80s a round. 

joe biden on the debate stage

President Joe Biden stands at his podium during the first presidential debate of the 2024 elections between himself and former president Donald Trump at CNN’s studios in Atlanta, Georgia, on Thursday, June 27, 2024. (Kevin D. Liles for The Washington Post via Getty Images)

US OPEN CHAMP BRYSON DECHAMBEAU OFFERS TO SETTLE TRUMP, BIDEN GOLF HANDICAP DEBATE

What is the average?

According to January 2024 data collected by the United States Golf Association (USGA), the average handicap index for men was around 14, and 28 for women. Only 20% of male golfers had a handicap index range of 0.5 to 9.9. 

How does Biden stack up against the pros?

It would be unfair to compare any average golfer to a PGA Tour pro – the difficulty of the courses they play on alone wouldn’t stack up. 

And while pros don’t keep track, there have been those who have calculated what their indexes would be if they did. 

Tiger Woods at round 2 of masters

Tiger Woods of the United States reacts on the 18th green during the second round of the 2024 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 12, 2024, in Augusta, Georgia.  (Warren Little/Getty Images)

In 2020, golf statistical guru Lou Stagner did just that. According to his numbers from data collected from 2016 to 2020, Rickie Fowler was first with a best index of +8.4—the number of strokes better than scratch (0). 

Kevin Na and Tiger Woods had a best index of +8.3. The average index for a PGA Tour pro was around +5.4. 

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The debate on golf handicaps might never be settled, but Bryson DeChambeau, who had an average index of +5.8, offered to help settle it. 

“Let’s settle this whole handicap debate, I’ll host the golf match on my YouTube.” 

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