What Does it Take to Play Scratch Golf?
Being a scratch golfer is defined as “a player who can play to a Course Handicap of zero on any and all rated golf courses.” Most of us would associate it with having a handicap of zero. In plain words, scratch golf means that on a neutral golf course a player has the ability to shoot par on any given day.
Becoming a scratch golfer is the ultimate goal for many players. I have been chasing it for more than 20 years. Currently, my handicap sits at .7, and I am right there. That gives me a unique perspective on what it takes to get down to this level of golf, and what I think separates the golfers who have made it from those who have not.
We will take a look at a few things in this article. Overall I want to give you a realistic understanding of what it really takes to get down to this level.
What Does a Scratch Golfer Look Like?
I can tell you without a doubt that there is a huge misconception in regards to what scratch golf looks like. First off, they are not birdie machines. Scratch golfers are not firing at pins left and right, and draining putts from 20 feet all of the time.
They are remarkably steady with their games. They don’t make double bogeys much, and are hitting tons of greens in regulation. Additionally, their short games get them out of trouble when their swings aren’t performing well. Most importantly, they have a ton of grit and resiliency.
Let’s take a look at some top-level stats from scratch golfers to provide some perspective (provided by GAME GOLF)
As you can see they are pretty good at everything, which is what you would expect. As someone who plays close enough to this level, here is what I would tell you is the main key.
Your game needs to be built around ball striking. While you don’t need tremendous length, you need to be hitting the majority of greens in regulation during your rounds. If you miss them, then you better be getting up and down for par most of the time as well.
Sound easy enough?
Skills are one thing, Belief is Another…
It should go without saying that you need to be very skilled in all parts of the game to become a scratch golfer. But there’s one main difference that I have noticed playing with golfers at this level, and noticed in the evolution of my own game.
You need to have a deep belief in your abilities.
Here’s what I mean when I say that…
Golf is an incredibly difficult game, which is why I wrote a book entitled 101 Mistakes All Golfers Make. No matter how great you are, you will make many mistakes during your round.
The difference between a scratch golfer and the rest of the pack is that they know they can recover from these mistakes. It is incredibly rare to see a golfer at this level make two disastrous mistakes in a row. That takes a combination of mental fortitude, course management skills, and of course physical talent.
So when they hit an errant tee shot, miss a green, or three putt – they don’t panic. A scratch golfer knows they are good enough to recover and that there will be opportunities to score later in the round.
How Do You Get to That Level?
You’re probably wondering, “how do I do that?” If I could bottle up how you get that kind of belief in your game then I would likely be sitting on a beach right now sipping a cold beer counting my fortune.
It is not something you can be taught, or learn overnight. This kind of belief has to be earned over time.
You have to practice effectively, play a lot, fail, learn from your mistakes, adjust, and stay positive. It is a long, winding journey that is easier for some golfers, and much more difficult for others.
Most will not reach scratch golf. According to the USGA, less than 2 percent of golfers have a handicap of zero or lower. That is because it is incredibly difficult, and it takes a great deal of time to accomplish this goal. For most people this is a very lofty goal, and that is OK; you can make an argument that many higher-handicap players enjoy the game more.
A Prerequisite for Scratch Golf
This can’t be a “how to play scratch golf” guide. That would be dishonest on my part.
Here are a few things that I know are necessary from my own experience, and being around plenty of scratch golfers during my life:
- You need to be playing and practicing quite a bit. At this level, you really need to be doing something golf related almost every day. Scratch golf does not happen by accident!
- Striking a balance between effective practice and playing is key. Doing too much of either will hinder your progress. You need to be experiencing live action all of the time, and then making sure your practice sessions are addressing the issues you see during your rounds.
- Tempers and negativity should have no part of your game. Remaining positive, and keeping your emotions at bay is critical. Scratch golf is a steady ship.
- Your ball striking needs to be good enough to keep the ball in play at all times. That means avoiding major trouble off the tee and with your approach shots. That leads me to my next point…
- Most scratch golfers are incredible course managers. They don’t take unnecessary risks. They manage their game on the course through smart club selections, and choose targets that give them the best opportunity to score, but limit big mistakes.
- Their short games are skilled enough to save par the majority of the time and avoid three putts.
It is a Big Goal
That list was meant to scare you off a little bit. That’s because this is one of the hardest goals to achieve for any golfer. I’ve been at it for over 20 years, and have been stuck on the finish line for the better part of three years. Hopefully, by the time you read this article I will have crossed over into the promised land!
Scratch golf requires a well-rounded game, deep psychological belief in your abilities, and great emotional fortitude. All of those things take time and experience to develop. That is why most golfers fail to get there.
If you are serious about becoming a scratch golfer I would think long and hard about what it takes. Expectation management is one of the most important parts of being a happy golfer. This goal might be unreasonable for you simply because you don’t have the time or experience to achieve it. You could put yourself through a lot of heartache simply because it is an unreasonable expectation.
However, if you are close enough, it is certainly a great journey to embark on. I have had a great deal of fun being a rabbit trying to chase this carrot. It has been a lifelong pursuit that continues to be challenging, frustrating, exhilarating, but mostly fun for me.
Do you have what it takes to become a scratch golfer? Share your experiences in the comments section…