What is a Scratch Golfer?

Golf is a complex sport for many beginners. In addition to understanding the skills and techniques, you should also be familiar with the terms used. Knowing golf terminology will help you improve. Among the many terms used in golf, the term “scratch golfer”, in particular, seems to have lost meaning over the years. Many veterans and long-time golfers know the definition of the term, but people new to golf may have a hard time understanding the term. Fortunately, the explanation is simple.

If you’ve been playing golf, you might have heard that a player at your club plays off-scratch. But what exactly does that mean? And how good are they? So, what is a Scratch Golfer? The simple definition of a scratch golfer is a person who is good enough to typically shoot at par or better. If you have a handicap of 15, you can expect to be about 15 over every time you play; but a scratch player expects to play-level par or better whenever they play.

The term also includes players who are better than 0 or who are said to have a plus or positive handicap. For example, a golf player with a handicap of +4 has to add four shots to their score in a net competition. When used by golfers, “scratch golfer” is sometimes shortened to just “scratch.”

golfer paying attention before and after swing

Official Definition of Scratch Golf

According to the United States Golf Association (USGA), “a scratch golfer is a player who can play to a handicap of zero on any and all rated golf courses.” This definition is the updated version. In the past, the term-playing off-scratch did not take into account the player’s scores.

For course rating purposes, “a male scratch golfer can hit tee shots an average of 250 yards and reach a 470-yard hole in two strokes.” In comparison, “a female golfer can hit shots on average of 210 yards and reach a 400-yard hole in two shots.” Defining is very important as it is crucial for the course rating, slope, and handicapping system.

Handicaps are what make golf great. To better understand the meaning of the golf term, it is also crucial to understand what a handicap is. Simply put, a handicap is an assigned number that indicates a golfer’s aptitude. More specifically, it is the number of shots that a golfer can makeover par in an average round of 18 holes.

Why the Name “scratch”?

The origin of the word “scratch” comes from the starting line of a race. A line was scratched into the ground to denote the start line of a running race for all runners. To make the race fairer and more interesting, the fastest runners would start on the line, while the slower ones were given an advantage and could start in front of it. It was an effective form of a handicapping system, and the results could be very close at the end of the game.

Also, the word comes from the common phrase “starting from scratch,” which means starting with nothing. The golf player has nothing, while the weak golfers can deduct their handicap from their score at the end of the round. The system gives a weak golfer an advantage over a scratch golfer.

Scratch vs. PGA Professional

What’s the difference? And who is better? While it might be easy to confuse the two, unfortunately, their scores are far apart. A scratch golfer is any golfer who can play to the course rating on any course they encounter. It is more of an average overtime on the best 50% of the rounds played by the golfer.

Generally, a PGA professional is better in terms of:

Greens in Regulation – tend to hit more greens in regulation

Fairways Hit – tend to hit more fairways

Average Driving Distance – tend to hit farther

Proximity to Hole – tend to hit closer

Putts per hour – have few putts

Scrambling Category – tend to save par more frequently than your average scratch golfer.

When comparing, a male PGA pro needs a handicap of 4.4 or better, while a female PGA pro needs a handicap of 6.4 or better. The professional-golfer is that much better! Also, you have to give up your amateur status and earn your way in one of the most competitive environments. But the thing is, you have to be a scratch golf player to be a professional golfer. So, if you’re close to playing-off-scratch, there’s still a long way to go before you qualify for the PGA Tour or even the mini-tours.

In a Nutshell: How Good is A Scratch Golfer?

A report on the performance of scratch golfers showed that golf players could consistently manage all aspects of their game and plan their way around the golf course, hitting the right shots at the right time. A player has the mindset to bounce back quickly from setbacks and will rarely hit two bad shots in a row.

How Well of a Golfer Do You Need to be to Play on the PGA Tour?

In his book “Every Shot Counts,” Mark Brodie analyzed millions of strokes by both scratch and pro golfers and concluded a measurable difference of 5.5 strokes between these two players. In reality, if you want to participate in the PGA Tour, your handicap must be +3. If you want to earn a living on Tour, you need to perform to a handicap of +5.

golfers walking to the next hole

What Do You Need To Become a Scratch Golfer?

So, if you’re good at golf, playing off-scratch and getting into that 1% bracket can be a great achievable goal. But, like all good things, it can take years to get there. You’ll need natural ability, certainly help in the form of lessons or a trainer, lots of practice and hard work, a strong will, and a positive mindset. Luckily, the handicap system gives a head start and allows you to beat the scratch players if you play well. Highlighted below are a few tips to get you started.

Master Distance Control

One of the most important statistics that will be examined is your distance, so that’s something you have to work on. The best players know the art of distance control. It can be achieved with continuous measuring and improving as needed. It would be best to familiarize yourself with how far you are hitting the club every time. Doing so will give you an idea of ​​how much effort you need to exert to reach your target distance. By having a firm grasp on how far each club goes, you almost know what to do on each shot. Practice ¾ distances and knockdowns to get prepared for any weather conditions. The key to shooting around par most of the time is to master your distances and have distance control.

Track your Progress and Know Your Handicap

How often do you track your golf progress? Do you know where you lose strokes? As a golfer, do you clearly understand your strengths and weaknesses? To improve, you need a way to measure success.

Start by tracking some basic golf statistics as you play. Start by tracking your:

Fairways hit in regulation

Greens in regulation/ birdie putts

Putts per green and distances for each

You can also take it up a notch and track:



Proximity to hole

Exact distance for each shot

Why is this important? For you to get better, you need to know where to improve. You need to understand what is preventing you from shooting lower scores. Ask yourself a couple of questions: Is it wild tee shots or too many 3-putts? A golf player knows their game. Use your statistics in two different ways: First, set goals to improve. For an average of 38 putts per round, aim to reduce that number to 34. A handicap of 20 averages approximately 36 putts per round, but an off-scratch is closer to 30. Second, when practicing, focus your time where you need the most work. For instance, if you’re having trouble hitting greens in regulation, take the time to hit your irons on the driving range. If putting is your main concern, head to the practice green.

More Practice on the Course

As stated earlier, golf players know where to improve to practice strategically and effectively. Practicing is probably the most crucial thing if you want to play-off-scratch. Things won’t happen overnight. It will take some time before you can see significant improvements in how you play. It can be frustrating at times but don’t give up. Also, keep your expectations low. I mean, hitting a single-digit-handicap is hard enough. Learn from your previous rounds so you can practice smarter and not harder. Use the 80/20 rule — spend 80% of your time on your weaknesses and 20% on the rest of the game.

woman celebrating a great golf shot

Know your Swing

Undoubtedly, achieving a handicap of zero means you have to master your swinging techniques. Learning the basics will significantly impact your transition from being a novice to playing-off-scratch. It is vital to have a constant and proper grip. Having the correct stance is just as important as it affects the quality of your swing.

Increase your Speed

When it comes to swing mastery, you also need to work on your speed. The faster the swing, the easier it is to achieve a golf handicap of zero. It would be best if you strive for 100 mph or more speeds. As a beginner, this won’t come easy. However, you will soon reach your desired speed as you continue to practice. One thing off scratch players and professional golfers have in common is a full swing tempo ratio of 3-to-1. It would be best if you aimed to have a smoother transition to your downswing when hitting more consistently.

Invest in the Right Clubs

Having the proper technique is crucial, but having the right equipment is just as important. Do not make the game harder on yourself by using the wrong equipment. By investing in the right golf clubs, you are helping yourself be better. While there are no hard and fast rules about the right clubs to use, do your best to try and experiment using different clubs. In most cases, the right equipment varies from player to player. You can quickly determine what works best for your playing style by experimenting. There are many factors to consider, from the flex to the forgiveness when evaluating a golf club.

Proper Putting

Your putting skills are another critical factor that will significantly influence your journey to playing-off-scratch. It would help if you practiced proper techniques to improve your pace and minimize strain. You will need to exert considerable force to achieve the necessary speed. Remember to keep your eyes on the ball and make sure you align your belt buckle to the head of the putter. Try to maintain the same rhythm until the follow-through.

Final Thoughts on Scratch Golfers

With that said, a scratch golfer is one of the crucial terms in golf, especially when it comes to understanding the rating and handicapping system. Simply put, a person who plays-off-scratch has a handicap of zero or better.
Golf is a tough and challenging sport, and becoming an off-scratch-player right from the start is not an easy task. A golf player who goes from a handicap of 15 or 20 to an off-scratch player does not happen overnight. Be patient and set interim goals—set goals for the whole year at the start of each golf season. Golf is a journey, not a destination. Please remember to get acquainted with ratings and the other details we covered. However, don’t forget to enjoy the ride. Even if you never get to play-off-scratch, you can create lasting memories in the process. Good luck!