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How to Become a Scratch Golfer

How do you become a scratch golfer? If you are reading this and are currently a single figure golfer breaking 80 then congratulations. Swinging a lump of metal around your body to hit a tiny white ball across a field is tough. You’re already better than most people will ever be.

However, you’re here for the next step. How do you go from good to becoming a seriously epic scratch golfer? Many have that dream of becoming a scratch golfer. In this article I’ll talk through my experience of doing it (the hard way) and the great time I’ve had coaching players who have gone from single figures to scratch and beyond.

Grab a pad and pen, I hope this helps.

The mindset to become a scratch golfer

The first step to consider is your approach and prep for golf. The mindset of ‘great, another par’ or ‘I’ll try to birdie the par 5’s’ is good, but can be improved. After many years of talking with elite players here is the best advice I can give you.

Aim to birdie every hole, or at least give yourself a birdie chance. This should be at the forefront of your mind when building your course strategy, but also if you’re 9 holes in and -5 or +5 to par stick to this strategy. Your mindset should be that every hole is a new start, and your aim is to have a birdie putt.

In a similar vein, when you have a birdie putt you’re not just trying to get the ball close and tap in for par. Without being reckless, your aim is to hole that putt. What pace and line gives you the best chance of making this putt? This should be your focus when putting.

For more thoughts on how to become a great putter you can check out this link for a high-level guide on how to putt better, and click the image below to read more about green reading and pace control – I urge all players who want to become a scratch golfer to try out the tee drill in the article below just once. It will really change your perception of green reading and pace control inside 10-feet.

If you’re just off the green a solid chip and tap-in par is good, but your mindset should be to give this chip or putt a chance to go in.

Practice mindset to become scratch

This same mindset needs to be reflected in your practice routine to become a scratch golfer. You can’t expect to go out tomorrow with the thought of holing a 15-yard pitch shot and truly believe it will happen.

However, you should begin to vividly focus on holing each attempt during your chipping and short game practice. To start off with, this approach may throw you, but stick with this mindset and find the focus you need to achieve that level of performance in practice.

If your first three chip shots all finish left of the hole consider how you can improve your next attempt. Are you pulling it? Have you allowed for enough break? Was the pace perfect? Would a different club be more effective?

This is the self-talk inside the head of a scratch golfer during practice.

Remember we don’t rise to the levels of our goals, instead, we fall to the level of our systems and processes. Consider what your weekly practice and playing routines look like? Do you have the processes and systems in place of a scratch golfer? If you do, you will get there. If you don’t you’ll likely not get to scratch.

As a start point, check out our golf practice hub. Getting to scratch isn’t about hitting another 10 perfect drivers on the golf range. Rather, it is about understanding how to use practice and play to effectively shape your golfing skills and understanding of how you score.

Be clear – focus on the big picture of scratch golf

How are you achieving your current score? Your recollection of how you think you hit the ball and putted during the round isn’t good enough. Instead, keep some high-level stats. Here is a simple stat template you can use in excel – I used this template for many years with mini-tour pros I’ve worked with. If not grab an app, Gamebook and Decade Golf are two I have used in the past – both are really useful.

Don’t just count on how many greens and fairways you hit, rather focus on the direction of your misses, and when they occur. This type of analysis should be completed after each round. It allows you to sit down and reflect. More importantly, it should shape your practice for the following weeks/months.

Where should you be spending your practice time? Are you progressing? The image below tells me I’m generally missing left off the tee and into the greens. It also suggests my distance control with shorter clubs is limited, and that I need to tidy up my chipping and putting.

Golf notebook ideas: The Golf Insider Performance Diary gives you a simple way to track the direction of your drives and approach shots.

This simple one page of stats gives you a great insight into where you need to invest time during practice. Most importantly it tells you the direction of your errors. If you like this simple approach you can grab your copy of the Golf Insider Performance Diary here.

Skills games to become scratch

I firmly believe that if you put in 2 hours of specific, high-quality practice and play 18 holes a week you can get to scratch or better.

It won’t happen overnight, but you can keep improving your golf each month. Use the data above to divide your time between long game, short game and putting. Thirty minutes should be used to keep your putting and long game fundamentals in check (that is your grip, posture and alignment).

The rest should be used to play skills games, like range challenges and par 18 for chipping and putting. If you’re unsure what skills games are, they are challenging games, where the focus is on getting the highest score possible. Your aim is to focus on the outcome, not your technique.

Keep track of your scores for each skills game and every time you re-repeat a game try to set a new PB. Below is a list of links to get you going with some great skills games on your quest to scratch golf:

Your practice routine should be refined to match your specific weaknesses, but here are four areas that often separate single figure golfers from scratch players. Try to:

  • Reduce the size of your ‘big misses’ off the tee.
  • Improve your strike and distance control from 50 – 150 yards.
  • Become a chipping wizard from 10 – 30 yards.
  • Become excellent at putting inside 6 ft and 10-25ft.

With the above in mind, consider how much highly effortful practice you invest each week into these areas? I’m sure you’ll currently be neglecting at least 2 of them.

Technique

Many people feel they need to re-invent their golf swing to get to scratch. This is rarely the case. Nail the basics of grip and posture – if your basics are sound, the rest will start to fall into place.

On this point, find a very good coach you trust. There are many great golf coaches out there who can really speed up your journey to scratch. But, it is tricky to know if your coach is right for you. Here is my approach when assessing if your coach is the right one for you.

When you leave your golf lesson, things should seem simpler and clearer than they were before, not more complex. A great golf coach will stop you from falling down the dreaded black hole of perfecting your golf swing and keep swing changes focused. A great coach should also educate you on how your own golf swing works.

You will have to learn what makes your golf swing tick. This internalised knowledge is critical. Your golf coach won’t be there when you hit two hooks in the opening three holes of a competition… It is down to you to find a way to manage your swing for the rest of the round.

Shooting under par on the course

It is easy to not even think when you pull out a club on the tee at your home golf course. This is the club you’ve always hit, so it must be right… Well, it is time to clean the slate and start again. If you are on a par 4, say of 370 yards, what is your aim?

Do you wish to leave yourself 80, 125, or 150 yards, and why? Remember your aim is to consistently give yourself a birdie putt. These decisions will also change based on the conditions and time of year.

My home course growing up was a hard, fast links course. During the summer months, 50-60 yard shots were impossibly hard to get close to. Whereas from 80 – 100 yards you could generate more height and spin.

Use your practice data to help inform your decision making. Learn how often you hit shots inside 8-feet from 50, 75, 100, 125 yards. You’ll likely find being closer to the hole doesn’t always result in more birdie chances.

Start aiming for the middle of the green once you move outside your full 9-iron distance on the golf course. Putting conversion rates don’t change dramatically from 13 – 25 feet, but golfers often perform from a 30-foot putt than a tricky 8-yard chip. For this reason, the middle of the green is better than missing the green but being closer to the hole.

You’ll be surprised how often you aim at the middle of the green and accidentally pull or push your iron shot towards the direction of the flagstick. Try to dial in on distance control when playing your mid and long iron shots. You’ll be amazed how short your birdie putts are from the middle of the green if you can get your ball pin high. GPS devices are great, but I like to know the exact yardage and for this reason favour using a rangefinder.

Final tip for scratch golf

Finally, enjoy the process. It will be a rocky ride, you should find it hard. However, you are one lucky person if this is how you get to spend some of your free time.

I hope this guide has been helpful. It is genuinely the best advice I can give without being there to coach you in person. If you would like more articles like this one sent to your inbox come join the Golf Insider weekly post.

Happy golfing – Will @ Golf Insider UK

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Will Shaw, PhD, MSc, PGA Pro

Will is a PGA golf professional, with a PhD in Biomedical Science and MSc in Sports Biomechanics & Psychology. He spent 10 years lecturing part-time at Leeds Beckett University and the University of Leeds in Biomechanics and Motor Control before becoming the Head of Golf for the University of Exeter. He currently runs Golf Insider UK, Sport Science Insider around wider consulting and academic roles in sport performance and motor control.

3 thoughts on “How to Become a Scratch Golfer”

  1. Great blog Will.

    For me, all it took was your putting lessons to take off those last few strokes…………..and I still do that same drill now!

    Reply
    • You hero sir!

      How are you? I’m delighted to hear you’re now a plus golfer, that’s a fine rewards for doing the right things for many years. It really made me smile to hear your progress from Bobby P. Thanks for the kind words. I’m 2 week in to having this site and blogging properly, my aim was to have 10,000 blog reads in a year, and I’ve hit just under 4,000 in 13 days! Time for a new goal.

      We’ll have to catch up next time I’m in Suffolk, sounds like we’ll have a proper game. 😉

      Reply
      • Great to hear that the blogs are proving to be so popular, and I’m sure that they’ll continue to be well read due to the great content.

        I look forward to a game when you’re next back. But with 2 little ones, I think I’ll be needing a few shots from you!

        Reply

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