Five things scratch golfers do that all other golfers don't (but can)
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Five things scratch golfers do that all other golfers don’t (but can)


Scratch golfers -- ones that can play to a course handicap of zero on any rated course -- are a rare breed of golfer. According to the USGA, there are approximately 40,000 golfers who have a USGA handicap index of 0.0 or better.

If you've played golf with a scratch player, you've played with the highest echelon player in the game. You've also probably realized that scratch golfers can make golf look really easy. They make pars without much problem. They get out of trouble pretty frequently. They make a good number of birdies per round. Those are the scores that a scratch golfer produces. However, scratch golfers don't all have the same skill set.

Some are long hitters. Some have special short games. Some putt as well as anyone on the planet. Every great golfer has a different set of abilities that has taken a long time and a lot of work to develop. While every scratch golfer plays golf a little differently, they approach the game in a similar way that makes them tough to beat.

Based on my nearly 30 years of playing the game and what I've observed playing with high-level golfers, here are five things scratch golfers do that most golfers don't -- but can do to get better almost immediately.

Hit the green as soon as possible: The object of golf is to play each hole in as few strokes as possible, and that starts with hitting the green. Most golfers who struggle to break 100 or 90 don't have a great short game. That could be because these players don't play often enough to stay sharp or they don't have the short-game repertoire to handle each shot. What's important for a higher-handicap player is to find a way of chipping, pitching or otherwise hitting a short-game shot (putting, even!) to consistently hit the green in one short-game shot. From there, a player can then likely two-putt to save strokes. When golfers take more than one chip to hit and hold the green, their scores start to pile up quickly.

Aim for the middle of the green: Every golfer on the planet can benefit from his advice. The overwhelming number of golfers both overestimate how far they hit the ball with each club in the bag and also aim for the flag too often when it is in a difficult position on the putting surface. Aiming at the flag is often a recipe for disaster. Instead, aim for the middle of the green. Golfers rarely hit the ball over the green, but they do hit it left and right of their target all the time. By making the target the middle of the green, a golfer gives themselves the best chance to hit the green with their next shot because their shot distribution pattern should cover the green more often than aiming to an off-center target. Hitting more greens in regulation means lower scores because a player is typically stronger with the putter in their hand than a short-game club.

Leave putts into a 3-foot circle: One of the biggest drags on a high-handicappers scorecard is three-putts. Three-putts often lead to bogeys and double-bogeys, or worse, and they sour a round. The best golfers in the world make putts at a better percentage than high-handicap players, yes, but what they really do well is not three-putt. They can get a putt outside of 15 feet into a 3-foot circle a large percentage of the time, giving them stress-free two-putts. Learning speed control from 50 feet and in is critical. Establish a baseline speed for your putting in 5-foot increments using a putting green at your home course or even on the carpet in your house. Then you can adjust to new courses as needed and putt well out of the gate. Most poor putters do not play enough break and putt too hard. Play a little more break and look to make the putt in the front of the cup.

Hit driver off the tee on par 4s and par 5s: There's long been a school of thought that a bad golfer should only hit off the tee the club they feel they can hit the straighest and farthest. Turns out, the data doesn't support that argument. The biggest predictor of success on a golf hole is how close a golfer is to the hole with their next shot. Yes, hitting the ball in the trees or water will put a damper on that, but it's better to be longer and in the rough than shorter and in the fairway. Hit the driver. What's most important with the driver is to know how you'll miss. If you hit the ball to the right, then aim a little left. If you tend to pull the ball, aim a little right. Hitting the fairway isn't the most important thing off the tee -- it's avoiding the objects that can force you to hit awkward or impossible follow-up shots, like trees, sand and water. Finding any kind of grass is a win. And when scratch golfers find one of those difficult situations, they mitigate disaster by getting their next ball back into play so as to not have to hit a trouble shot twice. That might mean chipping out or taking their medicine, but it adds up over the course of a round.

Don't lay up to a comfortable number: Golfers have long been told to layup to easy numbers on par 5s. Hit a third shot from your full wedge distance, or 100 yards, or pick your marker. The data tells us that's not true, either. Your goal with every shot in golf should be to get as close to the hole as you can. Don't lay up to 100 yards to hit a perfect pitching wedge when you get get to 50 yards and hit a three-quarter sand wedge. There may be variance from one opportunity to the next, but, in the long-term, closer is always better.

About the author

Ryan Ballengee

Ryan Ballengee is founder and editor of Golf News Net. He has been writing and broadcasting about golf for nearly 20 years. Ballengee lives in the Washington, D.C. area with his family. He is currently a +2.6 USGA handicap, and he has covered dozens of major championships and professional golf tournaments. He likes writing about golf and making it more accessible by answering the complex questions fans have about the pro game or who want to understand how to play golf better.

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