If you’ve played golf for a decent amount of time, you’ve likely heard the phrase “scratch golfer”. If you’re like me when I started playing then you probably have no idea what that phrase means.
According to the two governing bodies of golf, the USGA and the R&A, a scratch golfer is defined as “a player with a Handicap Index of 0.0”. This doesn’t mean that a scratch player will shoot par or better each round he or she plays. On a course of average difficulty, a scratch golfer will typically shoot somewhere between 69 – 79.
If you’re surprised to hear the average scratch golfer with a 0.0 handicap will shoot in the mid to high 70’s at times, continue reading below and I’ll provide a detailed explanation as to how this is possible.
How is the Handicap Index Calculated?
The beauty of the Handicap Index calculation is not all posted scores are included in the calculation. To keep it simple, once a player has posted 20 scores, 8 of these scores will be used in the handicap calculation. This is how a scratch golfer can shoot in the upper 70’s from time to time and still remain a 0.0 handicap player. By being able to discard 12 inadequate scores, a players better scores will weigh more heavily in the calculation. Prior to 2020, 10 scores were used in this calculation. In a effort to create more fairness across all handicap levels, it was lowered from 10 to 8. This is especially helpful for the higher handicapped players who scores tend to fluctuate much more than for example someone playing off of scratch.
The scores used in the calculation are based on which have the best Score Differential. The Score Differential calculation takes into account the players score, the Course Rating, the Slope Rating and the playing conditions when the round was completed. I’ve posted the Score Differential formula below.
Score Differential = (113 / Slope Rating) x (Adjusted Gross Score – Course Rating – PCC adjustment)
The official USGA breakdown of the Score Differential calculation can be found HERE. Score Differential is useful in determining which score is better between a 77 shot on an easy course and an 81 shot on a difficult course. Once the 8 lowest Score Differentials have been identified, an average is then computed and this will value is the official Handicap Index.
How to Become a Scratch Golfer?
Becoming a scratch golfer is the ultimate dream for most of us amateur golfers. Reaching that level of greatness in the game of golf is quite the achievement. Just how rare is it to you ask? Well according to the USGA, in 2020 there were are total of 35,883 players who were playing off a scratch handicap in the United States. To put it in more perspective, it was 35,883 out of 2,417,905 players who have an official handicap. So we’re talking about only the top 1.5% of golfers in the United States with similar numbers likely across the globe.
Now that I’ve set the mood with some pretty depressing statistics , let’s find out just what it takes to get that handicap down to 0.0. In one word, PRACTICE. You remember the legendary Allen Iverson practice rant?
But we’re talking about practice, man. What are we talking about? Practice? We’re talking about practice, man!Allen Iverson – May 2002
Allen Iverson wasn’t the biggest fan of practice as you might be able to tell but he’s a Top 50 NBA player of all time so he could get away with it. For mere mortals like us, we don’t have that option! Dr. Bob Rotella is on the record stating a golfer trying to reach the scratch level should at minimum find 1 hour per day to practice or play. I tend to agree. I’d say between 7-10 hours a week at a minimum. So now that we know how much time practicing will consume each week, what specific areas should be focused on during these practice sessions?
Putting is the most important aspect of the game. The putter is the most used club every round. According to MyGolfSpy, a scratch golfer averages around 31 putts per round while a 16-20 handicap will average closer to 35. Four strokes certainly adds up on the scorecard at the end of a round. And depending on the player, that differential of four putts could certainly be higher. I’m currently playing off a 12 handicap (somehow) and average closer to 40 putts per round. It’s an absolute blood bath anytime I pick up the putter these days.
The above statistic should make it crystal clear the importance of putting. It’s absolutely worth dedicating at least half of the allocated time one has for practicing on putting. Focus on the speed/pace of the putts. This is especially critical when it comes to lag putting. Cozying 40 footers up to 3-4 feet on a consistent basis will help eliminate the dreaded 3 putts and get that overall putts per round number on the decline.
If putting is 1A then chipping is 1B in importance on the journey towards becoming a scratch golfer. There is nothing more infuriating than splitting the fairway with your drive, hitting a good approach shot that barely misses the green and then not being able to get it up and down for par due to a poor chip shot. Being great from tee to green but atrocious from around the green is a recipe for a double digit handicap. For context, according to Golf Monthly, the average scratch golfer gets up and down 57% of the time from inside 25 yards. It’s probably 10-20% for the average mid-handicap player. If you take nothing else from this article, keep that stat in mind.
Hitting shots fat and thin is something a scratch golfer doesn’t do often. If you’ve ever played with a really good player, the sound of the ball leaving the clubface is just different. The contact is flush and the ball flight is usually penetrating. This type of flush contact only occurs when the ball is being hit on the sweet spot. We’ve all hit those type of shots although it’s usually a rare occurrence for us while it’s pretty standard for the average scratch player. If you usually hit you’re 9 iron 130 yards but out of nowhere you fly it 150 yards, you’ve just hit the ball out of the center of the clubface. It probably felt different as well….effortless.
The USGA advices that a male scratch golfer should be able to hit the driver 250 yards and a female scratch golfer 210 yards, respectively. You need to be finding the center of the clubface to reach those distances. Obviously there needs to be a level of accuracy off the tee as well but if I had the choice of either being short and crooked versus long and crooked, I’d choose the latter. Reaching back into the Golf Monthly article I referenced earlier, a scratch player player is also hitting 10 of 18 greens per round or 56%. Meanwhile, the average 18 handicap player is only hitting only 23%. And the scratch player is 10 feet closer to the hole when comparing against the 18 handicap. Center strikes allow for better distance control which in turn allows for closer proximity to the hole on approach shots.
Difference Between a Scratch Golfer and a Bogey Golfer
I’ve already outlined a few of the major difference between a scratch player and higher handicap players but I’ll summarize below using statistics pulled from a MyGolfSpy article from 2016 where they provided a breakdown of golf performance by handicap. The sample size consisted of 20,000 golfers and 400,000 scores. The Sand Save % statistic came from an article published on GolfWRX which can be found HERE.
The USGA defines a Bogey golfer as a player with a handicap of 20 for men and 24 for women.
|Avg Score||Putts Per Rd||Greens per Rd||Fairways per Rd||Sand Save %|
Famous Scratch-ish Golfers
For the sake of making this list a lot more interesting, I’ll set the handicap cutoff line at 2.0. Still a phenomenal golfer to attain that handicap level.
|Vinny Del Negro||2|
Hopefully, this article provided some helpful insight on the definition of a scratch golfer. Playing scratch golf is a dream for many of us amateurs. The blueprint I laid out above should get you on your way if you decide to accept the scratch golf mission. And if scratch isn’t the goal, the areas I highlighted are still super helpful to start shaving some strokes off your score. Good luck!