how to become a scratch golfer

Scratch Golfer: 11 Ways to Become a Zero Handicap

Have you ever wondered what it takes to become a scratch golfer? Specifically, what are the biggest differences between a scratch golfer and someone who shoots in the 80s, 90s or above?

Disclaimer: There isn’t one specific thing that makes someone a scratch golfer vs. someone who shoots 10 or 20 shots worse.

There’s no secret hack to shoot 72 overnight. It’s a process like getting great at anything. But this post will give you tangible action steps to act like a scratch golfer. These tricks, done with enough repetition, can greatly improve your game.

Remember, anytime you’re trying to master something, whether it’s fitness, golf or business, it’s important to learn from people who are where you want. Success always leaves clues!

Whether you have been playing for decades or are just getting started, these scratch golfer tips will help your game. Keep reading to learn how scratch golfers differ from most amateur golfers and how you can get better.

what does it mean to be a scratch golfer

Scratch Golfer 101: How They Differ from Amateur Golfers

Are you ready to become a scratch golfer? If so, these tips are bound to help you play smarter, shoot lower, and reach your true potential.

1. Know Their Distances

If you want to shoot around par most of the time, knowing your distances is crucial. Most amateurs instead “guest-timate” how far they hit each club. On the other hand, scratch golfers have distance control down to a science.

By knowing how far you hit each club, you can eliminate doubt mid-round and commit to the shot 100%. If you are in between clubs or aren’t sure how far you hit each club, it’s very hard to feel confident over the ball. (Here’s how far your clubs should go on average.)

Scratch golfers train their games on the range and in practice rounds to learn distances for each club. Not only one distance but usually 2-3 distances. Usually, each club has a full swing, ¾ swing, and a knockdown shot distance.

By having a firm grasp on how far each club goes you almost always know what to do on each shot. Plus, by practicing ¾ distances and knockdowns, you can get prepared for any weather conditions. Grab one of these launch monitors to help you learn more about how far you hit each club.

And it goes without saying, scratch golfers always use a GPS or Rangefinder.

2. Track Their Stats

If your goal was to lose weight, I’m guessing that you step on the scale and weigh on a regular basis…right? Then why don’t you track your golf progress as well?

Yes, tracking your performance is crucial in shaving shots off your handicap. I’m not talking about just logging your score for the GHIN either. I’m talking about tracking your rounds in detail or using an app to learn about your game.

Scratch golfers didn’t get to a 0 handicap by just winging it. They did so by studying their game and improving their weaknesses.

Golf is a rare sport that requires so many different types of shots in so many types of conditions. One weakness can really hurt your game. For example, if you’re a great driver and iron player but can’t do anything from 100 yards or in, becoming scratch is extremely difficult.

This is why it’s so important to track your stats after each round. Here are what scratch golfers usually track after the round:

  • Fairways in regulation (and what side they missed)
  • Greens in regulation (and where the miss was)
  • Up and down percentage (and which type of pitch or chip was their best)
  • Putts per green (and distances for each putt)

This is a simple golf tracking outline but some golfers track exact distance for each shot, wind, lie, proximity to the hole and more. Needless to say, if you want to get better, you need to first know where to improve. Tracking your stats usually makes it easy to identify weaknesses and figure out how to practice effectively. Here are a few devices that can help.

3. Practice Smart

Building off the last point, scratch golfers learn where to improve so they can practice strategically. On the other hand, most golfers who shoot 80’s and above (read here if you can’t break 80), don’t have a real goal with each practice session. But scratch golfers learn from their previous rounds so they practice smarter, not harder.

While some practice more than others, for the most part, they just make the most of their practice time. They don’t mindlessly hit drivers on the range without picking targets and going through routines.

By tracking your rounds, you can figure out which part of your game to work on. Use the 80/20 rule. For example, if you look at your last five rounds and realize your putting has been awful, spend 80% of your practice on putting. Start doing putting drills, work on your speed control, and dial in your routine.

Then, use the other 20% working on the rest of your game. Do this every few weeks so you’re constantly spending the most time on the weakest part of your game.

4. Master their Tempo

Golfers don’t have much in common in terms of full-swings. Some take it back outside and some take it back inside. Some have long swings like John Daly, while others have half backswings like Tony Finau.

But the one thing scratch golfers and pro golfers have in common is a 3:1 full-swing tempo. If you have the perfect tempo, you can get a lot more out of your game regardless of your mechanics. Having a 3:1 tempo usually means you hit more consistently and have a smoother transition to your downswing.

The same goes for your short game, except its a 2-1 tempo. If you’re struggling with tempo on any type of shot, make sure to check out the Tour Tempo.

5. Work on the Mental Game

Scratch golfers practice smart and have probably been playing for a while but they’re also much better between the ears. As the great Sam Snead said, “I’d say that golf is about 75% mental. If your state of mind gets out of kilter, you’re worse than a tomcat floating on a log.”

If you’re standing over the ball scared, fearful or nervous, chances are you’re going to hit a less than perfect shot. Scratch golfers learn to control the internal chatter and make their mental game work for them, not against them. If you want to become the best golfer you can, focusing on the mental game is crucial.

Tiger Woods is arguably the best example out there. He has studied meditation, breathing techniques, hypnotherapy, and other mental hacks since he was a child. It’s probably one of the main reasons he’s been able to consistently shine on the biggest stages.

The better you are between the ears, the lower you will shoot. With a strong mental game, you can stay patient, stay calm, and hit the clutch shots when you need it most. To learn more about the mental game, make sure to check out these Dr. Bob Rotella books.

6. Play the Right Clubs

Scratch golfers don’t make the game harder on themselves by playing the wrong equipment. Instead, they are almost always tinkering and experimenting to find the right equipment for their game. Whether it’s a new clubhead, new shaft or adjusting long irons with hybrids.

If you want to almost instantly get better yourself, make sure your clubs are right for your game. Your clubs should make the game easier by having plenty of forgiveness and the right shaft flex.

7. Know Their Swing

How well do you know your game? Do you primarily miss it left or right? Is your main shot shape a draw or a fade? What happens when you’re really struggling mid-round?

All of these questions scratch golfers can answer almost instantly. By knowing their swings, low handicap players can adjust and adapt during the round. Just because they are scratch doesn’t mean they have off days. By knowing their swing, they are always prepared and know how to fix minor issues during the round.

8. Have a Course (and Hole) Strategy

When you get to the course and to each tee box, do you have a strategy for the hole and round? If yes, nice job. If no, this is an easy way to start shooting lower scores.

Scratch golfers, for the most part, almost always have a strategy on the tee box for the best way to play the hole. And after you are in the fairway, have a strategy for how to attack the green. By crafting a strategy for each hole, you can avoid trouble and play to your strengths.

Make sure you spend a second looking at your golf GPS and the scorecard to find the best way to play the hole. Remember, just because your buddies are hitting drivers on tight holes or going for par 5-s in two, doesn’t mean you need to as well. Play to your strengths and let the score at the end do the talking.

9. Play With Low-Handicappers

If you want to get good at anything, surrounding yourself with people who are better than you is never a bad idea. Think about it, which situation would make you better if you were running a race:

  • Be the fastest in a slow group…


  • Slowest in a fast group?

While you might get some confidence from beating everyone, you probably won’t train as hard. But if you’re the slowest in the group and want to get better, you can learn from people that are beating you.

The same goes for golf. Scratch golfers tend to play with scratch golfers and guys they can compete with for friendly wagers. By playing with high-level golfers, you tend to focus more, stick to your routine and shoot lower scores more consistently.

You can do this as well. While it’s not to say you need to ditch your regular golfing buddies, try to play with golfers that are better than you. Sure, it might be intimidating at first, but in the end, your game will improve.

10. Don’t Get Overly Emotional

Have you ever noticed that most professional golfers are pretty mild mannered during the round…good or bad? Sure, there are exceptions like Sergio, Tiger, and John Rahm. But for the most part, if you looked at most golfers on tour, you couldn’t guess if they were over or under based on their body language.

The same goes for the majority of scratch golfers. They keep their emotions in check and don’t get too high or too low during the round. While they might have a fist pump or a subtle club toss, they aren’t going to go mental on the course.

That’s because getting overly emotional can ruin the next few shots and totally mess up your game. Instead of acting like each shot is life or death, try to maintain a calm and cool attitude, regardless of the outcome.

Do this by reminding yourself that it’s just one shot and you have plenty of them left. Also, try to walk slow when things aren’t going your way, smile when you don’t feel like, and just keep breathing.

11. Have a Solid Routine

While all the tips on here are very helpful, having a solid routine is arguably the most impactful. Scratch golfers have a solid routine that is almost like clockwork. If you time their routine from picking a club to actually hitting a shot, it’s probably within seconds of each other.

By having a simple pre-shot routine with all shots, you can stay focused, committed, and patient during the round. A solid routine can minimize nerves and increase confidence.

Here is a good example of a pre-shot routine for a scratch golfer:

  • Uses his rangefinder, confirms distance to the pin and to the front or back of the green
  • Selects a distance for how far he wants the shot to go
  • Selects a club to hit that shot based on conditions and the best spot to miss
  • Picks an intermediate target in front of the ball for alignment and a target on the green or fairway
  • Takes 1-2 smooth practice swings thinking about the ideal shot
  • Stand over the ball, takes 1-2 looks at the target, and then pulls the trigger

There is very little hesitation. By executing quickly, you can get rid of those pre-shot jitters and hit better golf shots. Try to incorporate this type of routine or similar into your game.

how to be a scratch golfer

Scratch Golfer FAQs

Do you have more questions about being a scratch golfer? Check out the FAQs below.

What does it mean to be a scratch golfer?

A scratch golfer is someone who has around a zero handicap. This means that the player will usually shoot right around par on any given course.

How many scratch golfers are there in the world?

While the USGA hasn’t released a formal study, popular opinion is that only 2% of golfers are considered scratch golfers.  Several surveys have found that 16% of all golfers in the US are an 8 handicap or lower.  Bottom line, if you are a single digit handicap you are in some pretty rare company.

Scratch Golfer vs. Pro: What’s the Difference?

It’s easy to think that scratch golfers are just like the pros but there are a few key differences. Most pros probably are more like a +4 or greater handicap.

The biggest difference between scratch golfers and pros are that:

  • Pros tend to hit farther
  • Pros tend to hit closer in proximity to the hole
  • Have fewer putts

Final Thoughts on Scratch Golfers

While I’m sure there are more tips to becoming a scratch golfer, these 11 ways are techniques that you can start today. Make sure to reread this article and see which 3-5 tips can help your game the most. Sometimes picking a handful instead of all 11 will make it easier to get started.

The biggest thing to remember is to stay consistent and always try to get better. Getting great at anything doesn’t happen overnight.

The last point is to make sure you adopt a mentality to constantly be learning. If you hit a bad shot and get angry, you aren’t learning. Instead, figure out how you can learn from each shot you hit and don’t get overly emotional. The more you can learn about yourself and your game, the sooner you will start shooting in the low 70s.

Michael Leonard

Michael Leonard

Michael is a friend and contributor to the Left Rough. He is a full-time writer, freelance writing coach, and creator of Inspire Your Success. He’s also an aspiring professional golfer who’s been playing for 20+ years and regularly competes on mini-tours & amateur events.

3 thoughts on “Scratch Golfer: 11 Ways to Become a Zero Handicap”

  1. This is a great article and very insightful, I’m gonna try to to grasp a few suggestions and work on tightening up my game.

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