Because “starting from scratch” usually refers to beginning something with zero experience or resources, it is easy to erroneously assume that a scratch golfer is someone fresh to the sport. In reality, a scratch golfer is quite the opposite of someone starting golf from scratch.
What is a scratch golfer? A scratch golfer is a golfer who can play golf with zero handicap on some courses. Scratch golfers have a handicap index, but when it is filled into the course handicap formula, the result can often be zero. That’s why their handicap card starts at zero (scratch).
In this article, you will learn more about the difference between scratch and pro golfers, alongside the steps you must take to become a scratch golfer yourself. It is a comprehensive guide to the term and dispels all ambiguity around it.
Additionally, we’ll provide some golf term tips to help you understand the terminology better.
What Is The Difference Between A Scratch Golfer And A Pro?
A scratch golfer and a pro aren’t mutually exclusive. One can be both, either, or neither. Understanding how the terms are different, though, can help you see why scratch golfers don’t always go pro.
A scratch golfer is someone who performs on or under course par, while a pro is a golfer who plays in professional golf events and receives a financial reward because of his standing and performance. As impressive as being a scratch golfer is, it isn’t the same as being a pro.
If your handicap index is low enough that your course handicap comes down to zero on even a single course, you’re a scratch golfer. To become a professional, you have to be so good that your “would-be” handicap comes down to zero on almost any course.
Aside from the defining difference above, the following are the points of further difference between a scratch golfer and a pro:
- A scratch golfer can play in amateur games – Scratch golfers are really good and can dominate amateur games. But that doesn’t earn them the “pro” title unless they meet the criteria set for professionals by the USGA or another relevant association.
- A pro golfer doesn’t have a handicap index – Scratch golfers don’t have a handicap, but they do carry a handicap index, which starts at 0.0. Pro golfers don’t carry a handicap index even if they shoot over par regularly.
- A scratch golfer’s status is contingent on his handicap – If a scratch golfer makes a bogey in 20 games, he can lose his scratch golfer status. That said, this kind of decline in performance is not spontaneously possible.
- A pro golfer’s status isn’t contingent on performance – A professional could average 72 bogeys per round for 40 rounds straight and not have his pro status revoked. Only by applying to be reinstated as an amateur can a pro lose his professional status.
As you can see, there’s a significant difference between a scratch golfer who isn’t a pro yet and a touring pro who might not maintain a scratch golfer performance. However, most pros have a scratch-tier performance, if not better.
It is often said that the difference between a 10 handicap and a scratch golfer is narrower than the difference between a scratch golfer and a touring pro. That’s why not everyone can become a pro golfer.
Can Anyone Be A Scratch Golfer?
Technically, anyone can be a scratch golfer. But the feat required to earn the status is hard for 98% of golfers to pull off. One has to finish at least 8 rounds on or below par before getting recognized as a scratch golfer.
Given that the handicap is assessed from the average of the best 8 scores in a golfer’s past 20, it only takes 80 perfect rounds to become a scratch golfer. However, that’s easier said than done, as most good casual golfers shoot 10 over par on average. Less than 5% of golfers ever become scratch golfers, and those who can start playing in amateur tournaments.
The track from amateur to pro isn’t as simple as it might seem, either. Many scratch golfers remain amateurs their whole life, while some turn pros.
What Percentage Of Golfers Go Pro?
0.02% of American golfer players are professionals; if you go by the index’s assertion that 1 in 51,346 golfers turn pro. If you exclude the occasional course goers and broaden the definition of a pro to include all golfers who make a living from playing, you get a 2% maximum.
This gives the wrong impression that it is nearly impossible for a fresh golfer to ever become a pro. You should consider the context that the percentages are from the US, where the sport is taken up by retirees and casuals who never intend to lower or let go of their handicaps.
The global percentage of golfer-to-pro ratio is around 23% because people do not usually take it up unless they want to pursue it as a career. In the UK, the percentage of golfers who become pros is among the highest in the world for a single country.
On average, one in 10 golfers in the UK is a pro, which either speaks to the natural talent of British players or displays the lack of the sport’s popularity among casuals.
Japan’s golfers-to-pro ratio hovers around 7%, which is again an indication of seriousness among people who take up the sport. So, you don’t need to assume that the American odds apply to you if you don’t play Golf the way most Americans do (for fun).
You can focus on lowering your handicap to less than 10. Next, you can try to become a scratch golfer. Once you’re a scratch golfer, you can try your hand at amateur events and official tournaments. Your performance and progress on the amateur circuit can open up your path to becoming a scratch golfer.
Path To Becoming A Scratch Golfer (5 Steps)
Whether you want to become a pro golfer or simply want to have the bragging rights of being a zero-handicapper, your path (at least initially) is the same. You must intentionally and relentlessly lower your handicap until you finish rounds on or below par.
Here are the five steps you have to take on your path to becoming a scratch golfer:
Step 1 – Get Fitted For Golf Clubs
The first step is one of the greatest “difference makers” and is relevant to anyone who wants to improve their game for any reason. Getting fitted for equipment ensures that you do not bend yourself out of shape trying to play the right game with the wrong club. Pros have individual clubs designed for their physique, natural swing force, and even grip strength.
The equivalent of having a golf club engineered for an amateur is to get fitted for one. Once you shift from a regular off-the-rack club to one you’re fitted for, you can notice a 5-point difference in your score even if you’re a mid-handicapper.
Some high-handicappers have reported a 30-point difference within a year of getting fitted for their clubs. However, that’s an exception that you shouldn’t base your expectations on.
Step 2 – Take Golf Lessons
As you may notice, you can make the most progress by simply getting out of your own way. Trying harder isn’t the wisest thing in a sport like golf. That’s why getting fitted for equipment works better than tailoring your swing according to your club. Similarly, getting lessons to know where your swing, aim, framing, and alignment are flawed works better than trying to lower your score with the existing flaws.
Most beginners’ game is flawed because it emulates other golfers. You might really like Phil Mickelson, but what works for him might not work for you. His course conditions, height, and upper-body strength may be completely different. You shouldn’t play golf like you see others playing.
You should play it the way that works for you. Golf lessons are very helpful early on as they teach you how you should play the game according to your own physique. Do not confuse private lessons with online classes. Video courses teach you the general game in a one-size-fits-all manner. But you actually need personal feedback if you hope to become a scratch golfer.
Step 3 – Narrow The Focus Of Your Practice
Whether you get your caddy to monitor your game or take private lessons, you will notice that some areas need more of your attention than others. A common amateur mistake is to play complete rounds as a way to improve. The opportunity cost of such a practice is quite high.
Every swing toward a hole you can manage is a swing that you could be practicing toward a hole you find challenging. Some golfers have trouble putting, while others can’t drive to save their lives. You should focus on the parts where you rack up the most points.
Broadly, you must pick between your short game and long game first. Once you have equal command over both, you can get even more specific about specific holes, bunkers, etc.
Step 4 – Play More Often
You will achieve a point in your golf improvement journey where your game is pretty uniform. You might be a bogey golfer by then, making a bogey at each hole. This is where simply playing more often can fix your game.
Whether you practice a specific aspect of your game or play entire rounds, you should increase your practice frequency. The more often you play or practice, the sooner you’ll become a scratch golfer.
Step 5 – Track, Evaluate, And Adapt Your Practice
The path to becoming a scratch golfer is different for different people. For some, it takes three years, while for others, it takes more than 10. How often you practice and how seriously you track and evaluate your game are the deciding factors in how far you go.
When you plateau in your progress, you can take golf lessons to help with further guidance. Many golfers don’t get lessons after their initial training, but it is okay to get external input every time you hit a wall.
Golf might be exclusive because of how expensive it can be, but it is very inclusive of different skill levels. There is no shame or judgment in taking golf lessons, regardless of your years on the course.
Scratch Golfer Recap
A scratch golfer isn’t someone playing golf from scratch. The term actually refers to golfers who have a zero handicap. Such golfers’ handicap indices start at zero, and they consistently play on or below par.
Anyone can become a scratch golfer with enough practice, but statistics show that over 98% of golfers don’t go that far.