What is a Scratch Golfer?
A scratch golfer is generally defined as a person who has a 0.0 or better handicap, or often shoots around even par.
If you’ve spent enough time around the golf course or driving range, you’ve likely seen some scratch golfers. Their swings are aesthetic to onlookers, their contact almost always sounds pure, and their length, ability to hit targets, “bad shots” put them in a category above the VAST majority of amateur players, just not pros.
There are two-different definitions for the term “Scratch Player”; “General Use,” like daily life around golfing companions and amongst amateurs, and its “Firm Definition,” as laid out by the USGA and other golf rating purposes officials.
"Scratch Players" in General Use
In talking with members of your country club or friends you play golf with, a “Scratch Golfer” means the person being referred to carries a handicap index of “0” or, in simple terms, is damn good at the game of golf.
If a player doesn’t carry a handicap index but still has a general score close to or around par, they would often be referred to as a “Scratch Golfer.”
Lower Level Division 1 and D2-D3 College-level players are generally around scratch (could be slightly better or slightly worse).
Even the term “Scratch” itself can be used in many different ways, and for many amateur players is a crowning achievement / something to strive for yet rarely ever reach.
“Oh, Al? I hear he’s off scratch now.”
“Have you ever played against a scratch?”
“I’m working on becoming a scratch golfer.”
Firm Definition of a "Scratch Golfer" from USGA and Others
According to the USGA, a “Scratch Golfer” is “a player who can play to a Course Handicap of zero on any and all rated golf courses. Scratch male golfers, for rating purposes, can hit tee shots an average of 250 yards and can reach a 470-yard hole in two shots at sea level. A female scratch golfer, for rating purposes, can hit tee shots an average of 210 yards and can reach a 400-yard hole in two shots at sea level.”
I want to emphasize the beginning of the USGA’s definition. “A player who can play to a Course Handicap of zero.” A “scratch” can play to level par. Still, in all actuality, a person with a 0 handicap index averages out around 74-75 for their scoring average for the year (if they play more courses than just their home course throughout a season). A scratch golfer is by no means at a level even close to pro golfers in terms of consistently playing well and shooting good scores. Still, they are better than nearly 99% of amateur players and possess the ability to shoot level par at all of the courses they step onto.
In America, only 1.5% of male golfers play with a “0” or better handicap index, and for the women’s side of the game, only .5% of players out there are a scratch!
This title is reserved for high-level players and can be referred to as a “plus _____ handicap.” The odds of reaching the “zero handicap and better” side of the game are slim, yet still, if players are better than a scratch golfer, they move to a “+” handicap. Once you reach that side of the game, you actually have to “give strokes back” to the course before you even tee off, hence why the “+” at the beginning of the handicap. Once you are a “plus player,” you’re properly expected to break par at your home course every time and must add strokes accordingly.
The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews often referred to as “The R&A Club,” defines a scratch golfer as “a player with a handicap index of 0.0”. While sounding incredibly specific, I like how particular The R&A Club is with their description and refuse to call myself a scratch golfer until I reach that handicap.
The Difference Between Pros and "Scratch Golfers"
You may be thinking to yourself, “But what about the scratch player? Do they even have a handicap?” The answer is “Yes” and “No”! While they do in fact carry a handicap index, it begins with a “0” or can be even lower!
While Pro’s don’t carry an actual handicap index, it’s generally expected they’d average around 5 to 6 shots better than a “scratch golfer” on the same course on the same day.
Speaking statistics about scratch players vs. pros purely:
- Scratch golfers average 66% of Greens-in-Regulation (GIR) while Pros average just over 70%
- Scratch golfers average between 50-54% of Fairways-Hit while Pro’s average 65%+
- Professionals get up and down 2/3 or 66% of the time, while scratch golfers will only get up and down around 50% of the time.
While these stats might not be too far off from what a scratch golfer sees, when you add consistency in every facet of the game, it’s pretty clear why it’s so damn difficult to become a Touring Pro Golfer.
On a brief note to finish, Tiger Woods has had both some insane handicaps and projected handicaps throughout his incredible career. His last “Official USGA Handicap Index” was playing off +8 when he was 20 years old.
In 2008, Tiger’s projected handicap was +9.3!!! His results to accomplish this feat beginning in August of 2007 were: 1-1-T2-1-1-1-1-1-5-2-1. Genuinely remarkable and the best-projected handicap of any player ever.
For his career so far, Woods has averaged a +6.7 handicap. Pretty ridiculous, considering he’s been cursed with injury for much of his playing life.
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