What is a Scratch Golfer?

What Is a Scratch Golfer
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What is a Scratch Golfer? 

Imagine shooting around par any time you teed it up? How good would that feel?

This is known as a scratch golfer (or scratch player) and one of the most sought after goals in golf. 

But what is a scratch golfer? How do you become a scratch golfer? Is there a secret formula for amateur golfers? How much better are pros than scratch amateurs? 

These are great questions that we’ll answer today. 

What Is a Scratch Golfer?

A scratch golfer is someone who shoots around par on any given day. They’re typically around a 0.0 handicap – give or take a stroke in either direction. 

This is an impressive feat as the average male handicap is a 14.2 according to the USGA. That means a scratch golfer is about 14 shots better than the everyday golfer!

Does it mean that a scratch player shoots par or better every round? No, not at all. Some rounds might be one or two under, some at par, and some a few over par. 

Now that we’ve defined a scratch golfer, let’s get into the best strategies to become a zero handicap.

Increase Swing Speed

Distance makes golf easier to shoot lower scores and drop your handicap fast. While this used to be anecdotal, there are now tons of studies that back up this claim. 

Arccos Golf – which tracks millions of golf shots through their sensors – looked at golfers who added 10 yards from last season… compared with golfers who lost 10 years from the previous season. 

Here’s what the study found:

  • 17% of golfers who added distance gained at least four strokes.
  • 65% of golfers who added distance gained at least one stroke. 

While 45% of players who lost at least 10 yards of distance lost at least one stroke.  Hitting it longer off the tee simply makes golf easier as it ensures you have a shorter approach shot. A shorter club in hand to the green (even from the rough) is easier to control which leads to more greens in regulation and shorter birdie putts.

Gaining distance happens from regular workouts, speed training, and/or new equipment. Click here to learn how to increase swing speed now. 

Play One Shot Shape

One of the biggest mistakes that most golfers make is thinking they have to learn how to hit every shot in the bag. But after playing hundreds of days of tournament golf I can say this is not true. 

In fact, if you watch the PGA Tour you’ll see this as well. 

The overwhelming majority of the time, players hit one shot shape almost every single hole. Very few players try to hit a draw one hole, then fade another hole… especially with a driver.

Why?

Because it makes it easier to have a “two-way” miss off the tee. This can lead to some big misses that make scoring very difficult. It also leads to having too many swing thoughts which isn’t great for the everyday golfer. 

Plus, the only way to change your ball flight with a driver is by changing the ball position. Since you’re hitting the club off a tee, this is a recipe for disaster. You can’t move it back in your stance as you’ll get too steep and hit the dreaded pop-up.

So if you want to play your best and most consistent golf, get really good at one shot.

It doesn’t matter if it’s a fade or a draw, play the one that is the most natural to you. Then play it 99% of the time off the tee and on approach shots to have a more consistent shot and smaller miss. 

Hit More Greens

To become a scratch golfer you need to give yourself more birdie putts. Aside from playing one shot shape (the previous tip) here are three more strategies to help.

Take More Club

The easiest way to hit more greens is to simply take more club on your approach shot. If you think about it, most trouble is short of the green. This is also where most golfers miss their approach shots (compared to missing long).

Why?

A few reasons… First amateur golfers aren’t as consistent with ball striking which leads to more thin and fat shots that end up short. Second, amateurs don’t tend to know their distance as well as pros and/or don’t factor in wind, elevated greens, or bad lies in the rough.

When you take more club on your approach shot even if you don’t hit it perfectly, you can still have a birdie putt. If you hit it too well you’ll still end up on the back of the green and if it’s too long, it should be an easier chip shot. 

Aim for the Middle of the Green 

When you play one shot shape and take more club you’re already setting yourself up for more greens in regulation. But to give yourself even more birdie putts, aim for the middle of the green more often. 

Unless you have a wedge in hand, don’t aim for sucker pins as you’re more likely to end up short sided. This will lead to harder chip shots, more double bogeys, and likely a lot more frustration too. As Boo Weekly once said, “The middle of the green never moves.” 

Hit More Knockdown Shots 

Finally, try out hitting more ¾ knockdown shots vs. full swing irons to hit more greens. If you watch professional golfers you’ll notice they hit a ton of less than full irons as they’re easier to control. Plus have a lower ball flight which can pierce through the wind and have less backspin too.

Master the Short Game 

Now that we’ve covered how to hit to increase speed, improve accuracy, and find more greens, let’s not forget about the short game. As Jon Rahm said, “My swing coach used to say that the short game is like the hospital; when your long game is sick, the hospital nurses you back to health.” 

To become a zero handicap you need to spend a ton of time on your short game. Why? Because even if you’re a top amateur – in terms of handicap – you will still miss a lot of greens.

According to this Golf.com article zero handicaps only hit 58% of greens in regulation. While a 10 handicap only hits 34% and 20 handicaps hit about 20% of greens.

Needless to say, missing greens is part of golf – even the pros miss about 30% as well. This is why you need to have a solid short game to save more pars and avoid double bogeys from around the green.

A good short game can disguise a bad ball striking round and make a good one even better. Like Jon Rahm said, it can also help get confidence back in your long game too. 

Use the Right Equipment

In your quest to scratch golf, chances are you’ll need to update your equipment as your clubs play a pivotal role. Here are three things to consider in terms of equipment.

Less Forgiving Clubheads 

As you become a more consistent golfer, you want to play less forgiving clubs. There is always a tradeoff between forgiveness and workability – especially in your irons. 

While I’m not suggesting that you switch to blade irons, a smaller design can help improve your workability. This makes it easier to control iron shots, shape shots, and ultimately, give yourself more birdie putts. 

Stiffer Shafts 

The faster you swing the golf club, the stiffer the shaft you need. 

If you’re swinging 100+ mph with a driver, you shouldn’t be using a light or regular flex. Instead, you’ll need to switch to stiff or possibly extra stiff if you’re close to 110 mph.

Otherwise, you will sacrifice both distance and accuracy which will make it very hard to hit your golf goals. Test out different shafts – both flex and weights – at a golf store to see how it impacts distance and accuracy. 

Custom Lie Angles 

Finally, don’t forget to check the lie angles on your irons. Ideally, you should get a custom fitting to ensure your clubs are helping, not hurting your game. 

A club fitter can help you find the right lie angle (upright, flat, or standard), and the correct shafts too. The right clubs make it so much easier to play your best golf! 

Study Your Game

Another habit among scratch players is they study and understand their game more than most golfers. Most elite players I know study their game by tracking their statistics most rounds to understand the weaker parts of their game. This includes tracking fairways, greens, scrambling, and putts.

When you track your scoring average and parts of your game, it’s easier to identify your weaknesses. Then you can spend more time on them in practice to hopefully turn them into strengths. 

High level amateur golfers also play their game – they don’t try to swing like their friend or play like another person in their group. To become a scratch you need to learn more about your game, your swing (especially under pressure) and play true to yourself. Do not try to play like anyone else on the golf course! 

Keep Improving Your Mental Game 

While the tips above will definitely help you become a scratch golfer, we can’t forget to mention the mental game. As Lee Westwood said, “It’s such a psychological and mental game, golf, that the smallest thing at the wrong time can distract you from what you’re trying to achieve.” 

A strong mental game means having a consistent routine, staying positive, making smart decisions, and sticking to a game plan. 

Finally, don’t forget that becoming a scratch player will take time. This is not an overnight event – but oftentimes months, if not years (or more) journey.  

Top Questions 

Want to learn more about becoming a scratch golfer? Check out the top questions and answers below. 

Why do they call it a scratch golfer? 

The origins of a “scratch golfer” are somewhat unknown but many think it comes from a line on the ground to start a foot race. Slower runners were allowed to start ahead of the line (like higher handicap golfers get strokes against scratch golfers). 

What is the difference between a scratch golfer and a pro?

A lot! While professional golfers don’t have a formal handicap like amateurs, according to Golf Monthly

But professional golfers are closer to a +5.4 handicap (or better). As mentioned in the article, “The best index achieved during the period was +8.4 by Rickie Fowler and the best average index for the four years was +6.5 – Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth and Brooks Koepka.”

It’s been estimated that Tiger Woods was closer to a +9 in the early 2000s when he was his most dominant! Needless to say, professional golfers are substantially better than scratch golfers. 

What is a 5-handicap in golf?

A 5-handicap golfer is someone who shots in the high 70s and lows 80s often. It’s important to note that a handicap is not your average score but more so your potential. Based on the handicap rating system they don’t aggregate your score but instead, weigh your best scores more heavily. 

Can a scratch golfer go pro?

It’s unlikely – as mentioned in a previous question, professional golfers are closer to a +5 handicap or better. Not to mention they shoot these lower scores on much more challenging and longer golf courses than the everyday player. Plus, they do it under intense pressure that most golfers couldn’t even imagine. 

Can anyone be a scratch golfer? 

With hard work and commitment to the game, anything is possible. But it’s going to take more work than you probably think.

Whether it means practicing more, getting lessons, buying new equipment, and playing more golf, it’s a process. But if you go into the journey thinking it more of a marathon than a sprint, you’re much more likely to make it happen. 

Wrapping Up

Becoming a scratch golfer isn’t easy but it’s possible with hard work and determination. 

You’ll need a combination of a consistent swing, solid decision-making, and a strong mental game to make it happen. Not to mention plenty of time to practice your game and play a lot of golf as well. 

It’s also a good idea to find golfers at your local club that are scratch (or close to it) to learn from them. By playing with better golfers you can learn a lot about their game and scoring strategies. 

Good luck in your quest to become a zero handicap.

Is your goal to become a scratch golfer?

Let us know in the comments below. 

Michael Leonard

Michael Leonard

Michael Leonard is a full-time writer, author, creator of Wicked Smart Golf and +1 handicap amateur golfer. He left his corporate career in 2017 to pursue entrepreneurship and professional golf; since then, he’s competed in 160+ tournament days and went to Q-school in 2019.

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