I could tell you that consistent practice and lessons will guide you to a scratch handicap, but from my experience, that is untrue. A combination of practice and playing, a strong mind, and talent are essential to achieving this goal. In this post, I share 10 expert tips on how to become a scratch golfer.
I have played team golf with four players that are now professional golfers playing their trade on various tours around the globe. We all had the same coach and practice regiment. However, they had a natural talent and a strong mindset that led them to a zero handicap and a tour card.
Some players have what it takes, and others do not. But I will explain how to best position yourself to achieve this goal.
What Is a Scratch Golfer?
Simply put, a scratch golf player has a handicap index of 0. Therefore, they must shoot even par in 18-holes to play to their handicap. If the total par is 72, a scratch golfer is expected to return that score on an average day.
When a scratch golfer plays well, they will card several birdies and finish their round under par. Conversely, bad days lead to the scorecard reflecting over par.
How Realistic Is It to Reach This Level of Play?
Not everyone can reach the level of a scratch golfer. I want to remove the fairytales and focus on the facts. You need to possess an element of talent and dedicate yourself to playing and practicing consistently.
Casual players who hit the golf course a couple of times a year are unlikely to lower their number of strokes to the range of a scratch golfer. Conversely, those who train and play consistently are not guaranteed to become lower handicap golfers.
It is realistic if you thoroughly understand golf swing mechanics, course management and improve the weaknesses in your game. Plus, you must have a steel mind that shrugs off a bad shot and encourages resilience.
10 Tips to Help You Become a Scratch Golfer
1. Get Fitted for The Correct Equipment
The first step to becoming a scratch golfer is to get fitted with the correct equipment for your game. A high handicap golfer is typically oblivious to which golf clubs and ball best suits their golf swing. That is why I suggest visiting a professional fitter sooner rather than later.
They will set you up on a launch monitor and analyze each part of your swing through impact. Statistics provided to you by the launch monitor include clubhead speed, club path, backspin, sidespin, apex, direction, and distance. Plus, they assess your putting stroke to find the ideal design for your setup.
Fitters have you test various clubs during their search for your holy grail. In addition, they determine which golf ball is compatible with your swing.
Although their work involves analyzing stats, posture, swing, and ball position, they have two objectives. Find the equipment that maximizes your distance without compromising accuracy.
Without the correct tools, you cannot expect to reduce your total number of strokes from that of a bogey golfer to the level of scratch players. That is much like sending a soldier to the front line with a knife, expecting them to win the battle.
2. Take Lessons
Hopefully, you took a golf lesson or three from a PGA professional when you first took up the game. That would have taught you the basics, such as How to grip the golf club, alignment, ball position, and rotation.
However, a couple of lessons will not cut it. You need to consistently work with a coach to neutralize any issues as soon as they arise. Otherwise, you walk off the golf course, pondering how one lousy hole prompted a disastrous round.
Then, you hit the range and keep making the same mistake without comprehending your errors and how to fix them. The experienced eyes of a coach will detect your issue, help you correct it, and then work with you to get back on track.
Regular lessons basically prevent bad habits from seeping into your game and imploding your mission to be a scratch handicap.
3. Practice with a Purpose
One of my friends, Pete Arnott, coaches amateurs and professionals in Scotland. We recently spoke about practicing with a purpose and how that sets amateurs from the pros.
He used the example of Tiger Woods, who would pick out a spot on the driving range and hit different shots to reach that point. For example, he would hit a full, straight 7-iron to the target, followed by a draw and a fade. Then he would hit a 6, 5, 4, and 3-iron and attempt to land it on the desired spot.
The point is that Eldrick had a mission to land as many balls as possible in the same spot by playing different shots. This gave him multiple shot options from that distance to navigate varying weather conditions and golf course layouts.
By the end of his practice session, he had improved his ability to stick it close to the target from that distance. Therefore, practicing with a purpose helped boost his game.
Before you learn how to hit a draw or fade, I urge you to improve your accuracy and distance control with a straight flight. Start with your highest lofted wedge. Pick out a point in line with your average full wedge distance, and hit 20-shots to that target. After your 20th shot, take a break and analyze the results.
If you achieved a 70% success rate, move on to your next wedge and follow the same procedure. Work your way through your bag and dial in every club in your bag. That is one example of numerous methods to practice with purpose and actually see improvement in your game.
4. Play Often
While some golfers make our game look like it requires minimal fitness, that is fake news. You can practice all you want on the range, but if you do not take those teachings to the course, you will struggle to lower your handicap.
There are 3 elements involved here; walking, winging the club, and your mental state. You need endurance to navigate 18-holes of golf consistently, which comes when you play golf frequently.
When you are exhausted after the hole 12th, it is impossible to focus. That leads to a lack of power on your downswing and reduced hip and shoulder rotation.
As a result, you produce inaccurate shots and lose distance. That is one way to rapidly ruin your round. A couple of duffs and miscalculations can add those feared squares to your scorecard.
5. Master Your Short Game
A solid short game is vital to reach a scratch handicap. If you cannot execute chip shots and struggle to putt, a scratch handicap is an insurmountable challenge. Pencil in a short game session, at least once a week, to hone in on your performance around the green.
When you possess the ability to get up and down from around the green, it enables you to escape disastrous situations. Instead of a bogey, you walk away with a par and do not destroy your round.
Besides, saving your round increases your chances of carding birdies. Golfers who know how to stroke a flat stick stand a higher chance of carding birdies during their rounds. 1-under par holes are essential to becoming a scratch golfer.
We have a guide dedicated to the 9 best short game drills. Give this a read if you are searching for exercises to boost your greenside skills.
6. Learn How To Scramble
Players unfamiliar with the term should read our guide called what is scrambling? But, if you know how to scramble, you should improve your skills. You will rarely achieve a 100% fairways in regulation record every round. As a result, you need to prepare to escape tricky situations.
When you are in the thick rough, the sand, or behind a tree, you need to learn how to escape with minimal wounds. Therefore, you need to play smart and put yourself into a position where you can attack the flag and one putt to get down for a par.
High handicappers would implode in this quagmire and try and hit the ball through a 1-foot gap in the tree. Despite missing the 21-yard fairway, they still think they can execute with precision.
7. Shape Your Shots
I said earlier that you should focus on hitting the ball straight before embarking on a shot-shaping mission, and I stand by that. However, as you lower your handicap and know your way around the course, the next step is, shaping your shots.
The ability to hit a draw or fade enables you to position yourself optimally on doglegs and work your ball around trees and obstacles. Plus, working your ball from left to right allows you to remove hazards and trouble from your line. Plus, you can induce these shapes to play with the wind rather than into it, resulting in a loss of distance.
8. Play with a Caddie
Certain golf courses do not offer caddie services, but if your local does, take advantage of their knowledge. I credit most of my results on the course to my caddies as a junior. Edwin guided me to make the right club and shot selections, taught me how to read greens, and play off different lies.
Having a caddie gives you one less element to worry about when on the golf course. You do not have the heavy load of your bag on your back, and you have a second opinion before making a shot decision.
Finally, it helps if you can build a long-term relationship with a caddie, as I did with Edwin. He understood my game, my thought process, and what shots I could and could not execute. Thanks to him, I made better decisions that saved me strokes when I could easily have carded a double or triple bogey.
9. Improve Your Course Management
Amateurs often step onto the tee box and start swinging. There is no thought about the hole’s layout and where they should place their ball. Course management requires you to think astutely and play for your position. Effectively, you ask where should my ball land on this shot to give me the best chance at attacking the flag on approach?
Manage each shot and think about position. It is, of course, easier to make birdies from the fairway than from the woods.
For example, if water runs along the left side of the hole, you should avoid this area like the plague and instead aim to the right. That completely eradicates the threat of the water hazard.
10. Learn Green Grass Grains
My final word of advice revolves around grass strains. Each type of turf performs differently and impacts the result of your putt. For example, Bermuda grass produces fewer breaks when putting with the grain of grass. Conversely, bentgrass grows upwards and enables balls to break in every direction.
Bermuda greens are slower, while bentgrass produces increased speed. In addition, there is a third strain of grass used on golf courses, called Poa. This grass creates inconsistencies on the green by offering a pure roll one moment and deviating bobbling ball the next.
The point is that each grass strain impacts your putting experience. If you do not know how to play these greens, you will battle to play to a scratch handicap. Especially when you play at away courses covered in grass that you are unfamiliar with.
Further Reading: If you are a beginner, I suggest you learn to crawl before you can run. Study our review on how long it takes to get good at golf, and then come back to this post.