How To Become A Scratch Golfer: 7 Practices To Reduce Your Handicap

Becoming a scratch golfer is an audacious goal.

Did you know that less than 2% of all golfers are scratch?

Of course, nothing worth having comes easy.

We love the idea of setting aspirational goals. Dream big!

You should always shoot for the stars, or in this case, shoot for the birdies.

We can help you become a scratch golfer, but it will take time and dedication.

In this post, we’ll look at the actual definition of a scratch golfer, then 7 practices you consistently see with scratch golfers.


Let’s jump in.

what is a scratch golfer definition

What Is A Scratch Golfer?

The simple definition of a scratch golfer is a player with a handicap of 0 or lower.

Yes, you can have a golf handicap lower than 0 (you will hear it referred to as a plus handicap).

Your golf handicap is calculated by looking at your last 20 18-hole scores, and then taking the average of your best 8 rounds (in your last 20).

In order to have a zero handicap, your best 8 scores will need to average even par (zero over par).

For example, if you play a course that is a par 72 and you average 80, your golf handicap will be 8.

To be a scratch golfer you will need to consistently shoot around par.

7 Practices to Reduce Your Golf Handicap And Get Closer To Scratch

Practice #1 – Track Your Game

what is a scratch golfer definition

Do you know where you lose strokes?

Do you have a good understanding of your strengths and weaknesses as a golfer?

In order to improve, you need a way to measure success.

Start by tracking some basic golf statistics while you play. Keep it simple – # of fairways hit, # of greens in regulation (in other words, # of birdie putts), and total # of putts.

Why is this important?

You need to learn what is preventing you from shooting lower scores.

Is it wild tee shots or too many 3-putts?

Scratch golfers know their game.

Use your statistics in two different ways:

First, set goals to improve.

If you average 38 putts per round, set a goal to reduce this number down to 34. A 20-handicap averages ~36 putts per round, but a scratch golfer is closer to 30.

Second, focus your practice time where you need the most work.

If you are struggling to hit greens in regulation, spend time on the driving range hitting your irons. If putting is your problem, head to the practice green.

Practice #2 – More Practice!

what is a scratch golfer definition

Unfortunately, there are no shortcuts to better golf.

If you want to drastically reduce your scores you will need to spend time working on your game.

Scratch golfers invest the time at the driving range and on the practice green.

Our time is precious and we all have busy schedules.

It can be hard to balance family time, work, and carve out golf practice time. We understand. The key is to use whatever practice time you do have wisely.

Quick and efficient practice sessions can pay huge dividends.

Make a plan and hold yourself accountable. Determine the amount of time you can spend practicing each week and then ensure that you follow through with your plan.

Make the most out of your practice time by being focused.

Don’t just smack range balls, but use your typical “on course” routine prior to each shot.

Take time to read putts on the practice green before putting them.

Practice #3 – Drive for Show, Putt for Dough

what is a scratch golfer definition

What do you think is the biggest difference between a 20-handicap and a scratch golfer?

It isn’t 300-yard drives or high 5-irons.

What separates a great player and a weekend hacker is putting and chipping.

It is all about the short game.

We talked about tracking statistics above and you might want to add another metric to the list.

How many times do you get up-and-down? In other words, you chip on to the green and one-putt.

A great short game can significantly reduce your scores.

The ability to make putts can cover up for other mistakes you may make.

Hit a bad drive into the woods? Leave your approach shot in the sand trap?

If you have a great short game you can still make par.

Being a scratch golfer is all about saving pars when you are in trouble.

Remember to work on your short game when you practice.

Spend time putting and working on different types of chip shots. Learn to hit a flop shot and a bump-n-run. You want options when you are on the course. Find a sand trap and work on your bunker shots.

When it comes to practice time, we like the 50/50 rule.

Spend half of your practice time focused on your short game. If you have an hour, spend 30 minutes on the driving range and 30 minutes on the practice green.

Practice #4 – Learn to Play Your Misses

what is a scratch golfer definition

One poor assumption made by higher handicap players is that scratch golfers hit every shot perfectly. This is not true.

In fact, even PGA tour players only hit 5-10 perfect shots per round.

The key is how well can you play your misses.

When you hit a bad shot does it go out of bounds and cost you two strokes or is it still playable?

Learn to understand your poor shots and how to keep them on the golf course.

Here is an example: let’s say you reach a par 4 and hit your driver a little bit on the toe and it hooks into the left rough. You hit your approach shot a little fat and it ends up in the bunker. A scratch golfer will hit a solid sand shot and make the putt for par. Two poor shots, but they leave with a par.

If you want to improve your handicap, it isn’t about how good your good shots are, but instead how bad are your bad ones.

Learn to score when you are hitting ball poorly and your scores will start to drop.

Practice #5 – Eliminate the Big Numbers

what is a scratch golfer definition

What is the difference between a scratch golfer’s scorecard and a high handicap’s?

It is not about how many birdies you make – the key is reducing the number of bad holes.

It is very hard to shoot a score around even par if you have double bogeys, triple bogeys, or worse on your scorecard. A great bogey save can often keep your round going in the right direction.

How can you eliminate big numbers?

Avoid penalty strokes – keep your shots in bounds and be smart when around hazards (lakes, rivers, and creeks).

Play smart from trouble – if you are in the woods or thick grass, chip the ball back in to the fairway instead of trying the “hero shot”.

If you are disciplined and smart while on the course you will see your truly bad holes decrease. This is another statistic to track when you play. How many scores above bogey.

Practice #6 – Know the Rules

what is a scratch golfer definition

The rules of golf are complicated and can be intimidating when you first start playing the game, but understanding them can help you play better. The USGA (United States Golf Association) has great resources to help you learn.

How can knowing the rules reduce your score?

Did you know that when you take a drop from a hazard you have 3 different options available to you?

Selecting the correct choice will impact your score on that hole.

How you take any drop can impact how you complete your hole. Give yourself the best possible lie and angle to the green. Make your recovery shot as easy as possible.

If you play competitive golf, not knowing the rules can cost your strokes or even result in disqualification.

Scratch golfers understand the rules of the game.

Follow their lead if you want to join them.

Practice #7 – Assess Your Mental Game

what is a scratch golfer definition

Yes, your golf swing fundamentals are important, but your mental approach is just as critical if you want to become a scratch golfer.

You must be confident and comfortable on the course. Being nervous and making a tentative swing can ruin a good round.

Are you able to stay calm on the course or do you get frustrated quickly?

Do you waste energy by getting mad and throwing clubs?

Do you quickly get negative and telling your playing partners that you hate this game?

This type of negativity can directly impact your score. If you have a bad hole, try to let it go before you tee of on the next one. Don’t allow one bad hole to cause another one. Stay in the moment and stay as calm as possible.

what is a scratch golfer definition

Set Interim Goals on Your Way to Scratch

Improving from a 15 or 20 handicap to a scratch golfer won’t happen overnight.

Be patient with yourself and set interim goals.

Celebrate success with a drink in the 19th hole or a new club.

At the start of each golf season determine your goals for that year.

Reduce your handicap by 3-5 strokes. Complete each round with 36 or less putts. Reduce your number of penalty strokes per round.

Enjoy the ride.

Playing golf is about the journey, not the destination.

Even if you never become a scratch golfer, you can make a lifetime of memories on the course. Good luck, play well, and enjoy your stroll down the fairways.

Photo of author
Ray has been playing golf for 35+ years, including being part of his High School and College golf teams. While he still enjoys playing in amateur tournaments, Ray now focuses on growing the game of golf through teaching and coaching. He has two sons that both play golf competitively and loves spending time watching them compete. Ray continues to play in local amateur golf events and currently has a +2 handicap.

1 thought on “How To Become A Scratch Golfer: 7 Practices To Reduce Your Handicap”

  1. I’m at that point in my life where my memory is the second shortest thing about me!
    Dealing with 180-ish yard drives, too.
    CAN’T reach most 4’s, some 5’s, even an occasional 3 in regulation.
    I’m a wedge wizard, but it only goes so far.
    Carrying a 14.3 at age 73 after never having played when young.
    Think I’m OK!
    It’s the tiny victories . . .


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