Playing With a Scratch Golfer: A Guide for High Handicappers

As a high handicapper, other golfers probably always tell you to keep learning and practicing. The best way to do so is to play with golfers who are better than you. It might be the neighbor who has been golfing since age four or a pal who just won the club championship. Regardless, gaining insights from them can help you lower your handicap. Do you know who else can get you to play better golf? A scratch golfer.

Playing with a scratch golfer is a different experience altogether and has significant advantages. You’ll probably see golf in a light you haven’t seen before. You’ll learn new strategies and playing techniques that you never even considered! But meeting and playing with a scratch golfer has several etiquette guidelines you should follow. If you get the chance, you don’t want to blow it…

What Is a Scratch Golfer?

The United States Golf Association (USGA) defines scratch golfers as players with a zero handicap on any rated golf course. For rating purposes, male scratch golfers can hit an average of 250 yards with tee shots and two shots at sea level to reach a 470-yard hole.

On the other hand, female scratch golfers hit an average of 210 yards with tee shots and two shots at sea level to reach a 400-yard hole. As a high handicapper who plays off of a 19 and above, knowing that scratch golfers exist is mind-blowing!

Scratch Golfer vs Pro

Regardless of playing level, every golf player knows that becoming a pro is the ultimate goal. But aiming to become a scratch golfer is also a feat! Scratch golfers and professionals are on two different levels. Here are some stats that show how much playing levels separate them:

  • Pro golfers average over 70% of Greens In Regulation (GIR), while scratch golfers average 66%
  • Scratch golfers average 50-54% of Fairways Hit, while pro golfers average at least 65%
  • Pros get up and down 66% of the time, while scratch golfers do around 50%

Both playing levels deserve respect, and high handicappers can dream of becoming either. But knowing that there are only a few scratch golfers in the world, playing with one is a great opportunity you should take advantage of!

Scratch Golfer vs High Handicapper

There’s not much difference between the stats of pros and scratch golfers. But scratch golfers know they also have a long way to go, as do you. Needless to say, when we compare playing levels of high handicappers and scratch golfers, there’s so much to understand.

Scratch golfers are zero handicaps, while high handicappers are at least 19. Here’s a comparison between scratch handicap and mid handicap (18-handicap) to give you an idea of the playing level gap:

  • A scratch golfer’s average putts per round is 5.2 for one putt, while an 18-handicap is 3.1
  • A scratch golfer’s average distance to pin 0-25 yards around the green is 12 feet, while an 18-handicap is 20 feet
  • A scratch golfer’s average distance to pin 0-25 yards on sand is 17 feet, while an 18-handicap is 27 feet

Lowering your handicap to become at least a mid-handicapper is already challenging. However, learning scratch golfers’ playing techniques and strategies will give you an edge. It’s the beginning of playing better golf!

What Makes a Scratch Golfer?

There’s yet to be a formal study on scratch golfers, but popular opinion says only about 2% of golfers have a scratch handicap. All scratch golfers have exceptional steadiness in their games, which makes them good at everything in golf. They build their games around ball striking and play on their misses! Here are some stats that make up a scratch golfer:

  • GIR: 67%
  • Fairways Hit: 53%
  • Putts Per Hole: 1.67
  • Scrambling: 54%
  • Sand Saves: 59%
  • Average Driving Distance: 251 yards

Besides the skills, what all scratch golfers have is the belief in their skills. So, when you meet a scratch golfer, you know they have the skills, confidence, steadiness, and overall playing knowledge you have yet to master.

Do’s and Don’ts of Playing With a Scratch Golfer

Yes, you get it now; scratch handicappers are great, and playing with one is an honor. But playing with a scratch golfer can be intimidating, especially for high handicappers. You know the difference between your playing levels, so you might get overwhelmed when you’re on the same playing field. When the opportunity arises, however, here are some do’s and don’ts that you need to remember:


Be Careful When Shouting, “Good Shot!”

Screaming “Good shot!” is inevitable when you know you’re doing good. But remember, your “good shots” as a high handicapper are very different from that of a scratch golfer. So, when you’re playing with a scratch golfer, wait for the ball to land and evaluate if it’s really good. You might be thrilled to hit the fairway on your drive, but hold your horses — it might not feel the same to a scratch golfer.

Give Gimmies

Gimmies are putts so short that you essentially can’t miss them. As a high-handicapper, you might hesitate to give a gimmie, but it’s something you should embrace when playing with a scratch golfer. If it’s a competition round or the scratch golfer really said they’re putting everything out, however, then do away with the gimmie.

Play Fast

Scratch golfers have a playing level that’s “in the zone.” They’re comfortable playing on the course, so you should be too. You’ve probably felt guilty playing too slow with your playing buddies before, so it can also happen with a scratch golfer. Try not to slow them down. This tip is nerve-racking, but don’t get too distracted and just play your game!

Be Natural

Lastly, it would be best if you’re your natural playing self. Don’t try to play like a mid, low, or scratch. Just play with the same playing knowledge and playing style you always have! You’re not playing with a scratch golfer to impress them. You’re playing with them because you want to learn.


Play the Same Tees

You can’t try to keep up with a scratch golfer’s playing range. That’s a fact. And you most probably don’t want to be a burden and slow down their playing pace, so you may insist on playing the same tees. However, playing the same tees won’t do you any good. Step up a few tees and challenge yourself!

Be Afraid of Action

It won’t be the end of your golfing days even if you get beaten. Don’t be afraid of playing your level and knowledge against a scratch golfer! It’s one way to learn and hone your playing skills, so give it your all. If the game starts to ask for some action, don’t back down!

Offer Swing Advice

Another big no-no when playing with a scratch golfer is offering swing advice. Even if they hit a bad shot, don’t give them unsolicited advice. You might be coming from a good place, but playing with a scratch golfer means playing with someone who has playing experience and knowledge that you don’t have.

Ask for Swing Advice

Besides not offering swing advice, you should never ask for it either. Scratch golfers might have playing knowledge and playing experience that you don’t, but playing with them isn’t playing school. They might offer playing tips but never ask for them.


Yes, you must try to play fast, but don’t rush. You can take your time to figure out a playing plan or how to hit a shot. Rushing can only lead to mistakes instead of taking in playing knowledge.

Apologize for Your Game

Being yourself when playing with a scratch golfer means you’re fully aware of your playing ability, style, and knowledge. Don’t be sorry if you hit a bad shot or your playing game isn’t up to par. Everyone has playing levels, and playing with a scratch golfer isn’t about playing under pressure. It’s about playing to learn!

Golfing the Good Way!

You have a long way to go as a high handicapper. Some may feel that playing with better golfers only makes you feel bad, but the right mindset is playing with them to learn and improve! Though still far from becoming pros, scratch golfers have already reached levels you may only dream of. Playing with them will definitely be challenging, but it’s an excellent way to get better.

Learn playing techniques, knowledge, styles, and habits you can’t get when playing with someone at your level. And when playing with a scratch level golfer, remember your differences but be the same golfer you are. Don’t limit yourself, but don’t overstep. Play the game and play it the good way!

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