If you’re reading this, then you want to know how you can become a scratch golfer, or at least what it takes. In this article, I am going to break down the granular details of what it takes to become a scratch golfer. I will look across the physical game, the mental game, and what you can do to prepare yourself for those exceptional rounds of golf.
Golf is a game of repetition. I want to share with you what I do week in, week out. To keep my game at this level. As a scratch golfer I can explain some of the things I have done over the years to help me achieve a scratch handicap.
A few disclaimers, I have a full-time job and certainly those other, family commitments. I was not a young prodigy or a particularly good junior golfer. I do have other hobbies; I like to go and watch my local football/ soccer team and take the Border Collie out for a long walk.
What I am alluding to is that I don’t have anything special or different to offer than 90% of you reading this will have. What I do have is knowledge, managed dedication, and commitment. Let’s explore my 10 keys to becoming a scratch golfer now.
Commitment & Time Management
Firstly, time management. This is something we all struggle with, particularly as we exit the pandemic and want to see friends and family more.
However, putting time aside a week in and week out to practice and when possible, play, is going to be a key hack to improving your game. On a Sunday evening, I will look at my work schedule and my calendar. Usually, Thursday and/or Friday night is a no-go (either social or date night!). Tuesday, I don’t finish work until 11 pm.
Therefore, I try to plan one day per week where I get up early and I go to the driving range before work. I also pick 1 evening minimum, when possible 2 evenings, where I will go after work to practice. The session will be between 30 minutes to 90 minutes (time dependant) and both these sessions go into the diary. I also think and jot down, what I want to achieve from those sessions and specifically what I am going to practice on.
The weekends again have the same challenges. However, I will play either Saturday or Sunday but at a minimum will work on the short game & putting if I can only manage a few hours to spare.
The final element is commitment, I try my best to stick to this and I am committed to taking action to achieve my golfing goals. I certainly have weeks off and time when I just can’t get it done and I can accept that, it’s normal. However, I will jump straight back into this mindset when I can. Knowing this attitude is completely transferable to business, work, relationships, etc.
I will explore this transferability later in the article.
It’s not Linear
I’m going to work through the most important element to your golf game, you.
Reading this article could be the first step you are taking in lowering your handicap. You could be a 10 – 15 handicapper who wants to commit to improvement. Maybe you have been off a handicap of 2-5 for many years and want to take the next step.
Wherever you are now, from today, your improvement will not be linear. You will have bad rounds, months, maybe a whole season of frustration and poor scoring. And that’s totally fine.
Look on the PGA Tour. Rickie Fowler is struggling. Collin Morikawa is flying. With your golf, the only way through the ups and downs is consistent, committed, and quality work.
Practice with Purpose
What I mean by quality work, is maximizing your time on the driving range, short game area, or putting green.
Standing on the driving range and hitting balls down there somewhere is fine if you are working on a technical element of your swing mechanics. However, what I want to move your mind towards, is practicing to score and specifically, practicing to make birdies.
A way you can do this is by playing a round of golf on the driving range. Take your local course. What would you use on the first tee shot, Driver? Ok, hit that shot as if you would, under the same pressure of a round of golf.
Then move to your 2nd shot, 8 iron with a fade? Hit that shot onto the target.
While you’re doing this, ensure you are repeating your pre-shot routine fully. Finally, why not score how many fairways and greens you hit in 18 holes? Ok, it’s all theoretical but you will gain a score that you can work on improving.
As I said, there is time to hit balls repeatedly and work on technique. However, practicing to become a scratch golfer will require you to re-create course pressure and shots, while on the driving range.
Stay Present & Learn Comfort
Because you are taking your golf a little more seriously, and you are practicing with a purpose you are going to find yourself playing some quality golf.
The reason I am telling you this is you will need to be comfortable when things are inevitably going well. What we don’t want to do, is to tighten up and finish rounds poorly. If anything, we want to finish rounds strongly and seek birdies in the latter stages.
A good way to ensure a level head and consistency through the round is to stay present. What we mean is not to dwell on previous shots or think about future shots to come. Purely remaining focussed on the next shot, “in the present” is going to keep us in a more stable mindset and allow us to finish strong.
But how do you do this, in the heat of battle?
A fantastic lesson I had was to take a red pen and draw a large red circle on your golf glove. Whenever I began to think about future holes, or previous ones I would look at the red dot on my glove and shout “STOP!” (In my head of course). I would then remind myself to think only about the present and focus purely on my commitment to the next shot.
This was a massive trigger to my success in my handicap because I was focussed on the next shot and not what was to come. I found myself far less nervous because I wasn’t worried about that tight 16th tee shot or thinking whether I should go for the 17th green in one hit. Like you hear most sportspeople these days say, “we take the next game as it comes, that’s all we are thinking about.”
I truly believe working on the mental game is a key to shooting low rounds of golf. We have all played with amazing swingers, chippers, and putters who playoff 3 or 4 handicaps. But they’re not scratch golfers. Other tools are available that are cost-effective. Be sure to read “Golf is Not a Game of Perfect” by Bob Rotella. This is a fantastic book by one of golf’s most esteemed psychologists.
By exploring the world of sports psychology and working on your weaknesses, I promise you will become far more comfortable under pressure and when things are going well. It’s certainly not the most natural or comfortable thing in itself to learn, but definitely a skill you can develop for your advantage.
Controversial – get a coach
My advice, should you choose to accept, is to work with a qualified PGA Professional on this journey. Why? Because the golf swing happens very quickly and is 75% behind my head, so I can’t see what I am doing right… or wrong!
Secondly, if you look at the Tour players, they have teams and coaches for all aspects of their games.
Finally, it’s genuinely great fun to work with someone on your game, who’s common goal is your own success.
Know the Stats
As a scratch golfer, we need to be aware of what our strengths and weaknesses are. What I find, is golfers have a belief of what their weaknesses are. Quite often their perception is not the facts.
Now I do believe you can have “analysis paralysis.” Overlooking every granular detail. Although, some basic stat keeping will help you work on the elements of your game that factual data suggests you should. Some key stats to keep include.
- Driver Distance
- Driving Accuracy
- Greens in Regulation
- Putts per Round
- Putts per Green in Regulation
- Scrambling %
- Sand Saves %
- Up and Down % from 50 yards and in
- Up and Down % from 50 – 75 yards
- Up and Down % from 75 to 100 yards
I currently use Garmin golf which captures this data for me to analyse. It also gives an average of my performance vs the golfers of a similar handicap.
Short Game is King
If you are going to commit to practising a couple of times a week, then please dedicate at least 50% of that time to the short game. Most of our shots in a round of golf come from chipping, pitching, and putting.
If you watch any interview with any professional about improving scores and their game. Most will owe an upturn in form to their putter.
Also, the way the World Golf Handicap system works, it takes your best 8 of 20 recent rounds of golf. By getting up and down, scrambling, and saving par more often. We will turn those 77, 78’s into rounds of 73 and 74. This can be the difference in achieving the goal of becoming a scratch golfer, or not.
Putt for Doh
Continuing from the last point, what most golfers don’t do is take their putting practice as seriously as they would a 30-minute range session. How often do we hit a few putts before we play, or just hit some short and long putts and think, “that will do.”
What I would encourage you to do is seek some guidance from a PGA Professional and ask him/her to take a look at your stroke. This will give you an idea of where technically you can improve.
From there, the art of putting is just getting the ball in the hole. You can practice on the putting green a variety of games and repeat the pressure (to some level) that you would experience on the course.
One drill I like to do is take 2 golf balls and putt them from 2 feet away. If I hole them both, I place a tee another grip length away and putt it from there. The aim is to move as far away from the hole as possible, by adding a grip length and placing down a new tee down, every time you hole both putts. If you miss, you move back 1 tee closer to the hole.
Throughout this putting drill and whenever I am on the putting green, I complete a full pre-shot routine and try to emulate as if I were on the course. I can’t stress enough the importance of going through the motions, the routine, and the stroke in practise. Not only will it make you technically sounder and more repeatable it will only increase your confidence.
Putting is literally the most important aspect of golf and will allow you to shoot low rounds, and as previously mentioned, save you when needed.
Know your Yardages, and not just the full shots
Something I work on a lot is from 100 yards and in. Going through different shots with my PW, GW and SW. From doing this exercise at both the range and on a launch monitor, I know how far each of the club’s fly.
I also know how far they carry with a half-swing and three-quarter swing. You can drill down further into swing speeds and lengths of swing, but this is a good place to start. I have the yardages written in a little book that I keep with me in my golf bag. It’s a great benefit, particularly at new courses or when the yardage “feels” shorter or longer. I can commit to the swing length and club that I need, which gives me the confidence of hitting in close.
Enjoy the Challenge, what you will learn will go further than Golf
Finally, you can tell from the article I am passionate about golf, and not only mine but yours!
Remember point 2 “it’s not linear.” You are going to have some really bad experiences and rounds. You will have some poor shots that ruin cards. But that is fine and completely natural. While this is happening, you can take from it how you react.
Do you go away and practice on your mistakes, whether mental or a poor shot? Do you try a new coach or network with others in the same position? Do you give up? At the end of the day, it’s your choice.
By committing to the process of improvement over a long time, you will see the advances in your game. You will learn how to handle emotions. How to bounce back from a bad break. How to remain calm and present when you open up with 3 birdies.
The lessons you learn on this journey are completely transferable to business, relationships, and life in general. This is a beautiful game and 90% of the time a walk with friends. You must be consistent, you must put in the effort and while you’re at it, you certainly must enjoy it.