How to be Scratch

June 1, 2011

I found this post while searching GolfWRX today. Very helpful. At the least, it will help you understand some of the things that go into playing good golf. If you can do all of them, bravo–you should be on the PGA Tour. But doing some of them proficiently will definitely help.

(for original text, see http://www.golfwrx.com/forums/topic/22272-how-to-be-scratch/)

This text has been combined and modified from various posts on the internet golf forums…………….

The number one thing about getting to scratch (IMHO): Time and commitment.

You have to make a serious commitment to get better and then have the time to implement your decision. Specifically, it means playing a lot of golf. Not necessarily practicing 5 hours a day pounding balls, but playing 18 holes every day, or at least 4 times a week, or 9 holes very frequently. If you cannot afford the time, it will literally take years and years for you to accumulate the “talent”, experience, and savvy to become a scratch golfer. I say this only if you’ve never been a scratch golfer. If you’ve been a 1 handicap or scratch golfer before, you don’t need to play everyday or hit balls. You can play once a week or 2 times a month and shoot even par. But if you’ve never been there, it takes time, a passion, and a total commitment.

Play as much as you can, and play as many tournaments as possible. (I can’t emphasize this enough). When you’re not playing a tournament, make sure you are playing a competitive match with someone as often as possible, and make sure you have some money on the line. And make it enough so that if you lose, it stings a bit. I know this (the wagering part) is a bit controversial, and not everyone will agree, and that’s fine.

When you do play, make sure you play on a variety of courses with a variety of conditions. Bermuda greens, bent greens, poa annua greens. Hot, cold, rain, wind. You name it. And whatever the conditions are, those are the conditions that are just perfect for you that day. Never use the conditions as an excuse. Never.

It’s about learning how to play the game and not learning some new golf swing. Start learning how to get the most out of what you already have instead of relying on the pipe dream that some day you will “fix” your golf swing.

Try to learn something from every single experience on the golf course. Pay attention to how you feel, what your tendencies are, and your self-talk. For instance:

* What did you feel like when you hit that 100 yard sand wedge to 5 feet?
* How about before you hit it?
* How did your state of mind prior to the shot influence the outcome, if at all?
* What did you say to yourself prior to shoving that tee shot out of bounds late in that one round when you were 2-under par and about to beat your personal best?
* Why did you snap-hook that 3-iron into the water from that ball-below-your-feet lie? Isn’t the ball supposed to go right off ball-below-your-feet lies?
* Why do I always miss left from uphill lies?
* Why do I always miss left from downhill lies? (Yes, the dominant miss for many good players from uphill and downhill lies can be a pull, but for different reasons).
* Why do I leave so many 50 yard pitch shots short?
* Why do I have so much trouble on fast greens? Slow greens? Big breakers?

Do not let pride get in the way of sound reasoning. Finally, don’t be judgmental – that’s a killer. Just pay attention and learn from your tendencies without beating yourself up and being overly critical. In my opinion, to become a legitimate regionally or nationally competitive amateur golfer (generally in the +1 to +4 index range month after month after month), you need to master the following:

1) Drive the ball relatively straight and relatively long (250 to 300 yards).

Spend some time perfecting a solid, repeatable swing with the driver. And you should be comfortable on right-to-left holes and left-to-right holes. This is a must. I play with lots of players that can only hit one shot with the driver – this is a recipe for disaster under pressure on a hole that doesn’t fit your eye. Notice I didn’t say you must be able to both draw and fade the driver. That’s nice, but not necessary.

You must, at a very minimum, be able to hit the ball straight when called upon if what you normally do is draw or fade the ball. Too many holes just do not fit a draw or a fade. If you can’t work the ball both ways, at least be able to hit it more-or-less straight when necessary. Even noteworthy faders of the ball like Lietzke and McCumber were able to straighten out their tee ball when necessary. You need to learn to do this also.

Be LONG. IMHO, you cannot be a scratch golfer and hit it 230-250 playing on 7,000 yd courses. You can by playing on 6300yd or 6700yd courses but not on long demanding courses. And you’ve got to trust your driver. You can’t steer it. Let it go. Freewheel it. Trust it and bomb it. Don’t be long and dumb. But it is possible to be smart and long. Too many times people equate being long with being risky or stupid. Not always true!! Look what the yardage and hole gives you and use the big dog for what it’s supposed to be used for. To gain an advantage to making your approach shot easier by having less yardage into the green.

If a hole really doesn’t fit your eye, then take out the 2-iron and rip it. One of the biggest mistakes I see otherwise good players make is that when they do decide to “play smart” off the tee, they somehow become dumb when they actually execute the shot by trying to “guide” it. Remember, the whole reason you’re hitting 2-iron instead of driver is so that you can swing freely and aggressively at it without having to worry about spraying it. That’s why you hit 2-iron instead of driver.

1.1) FW/Hybrids.

Be smart with these clubs. Use them around the green too. Expand your short game with these clubs as they will improve anyone’s short game.

2) Know your yardages!

If you don’t know your yardages, you cannot play competitive golf, and I’ll tell you why: The ability to know your yardages with each club through the bag is an invaluable tool in your fight against nerves, and nerves are an omnipresent part of tournament golf. Pros know within a couple yards how far their carry each one of their clubs. You should know within 5 yards for sure. When you know those yardages, it makes the game simpler. When the game is simpler, there are fewer things to worry about.

And you need to keep track of how your yardages change with the seasons. For instance, I hit my 7-iron 165-170 during the cold winter months, but 170-175 during the summer months when the ball carries farther. You need to know this.

3) Hit the ball solidly with reasonable accuracy and repeatability from 130-179 yards.

So work a bit on your ball striking with 6-iron to pitching wedge. But don’t get too caught up spending time here. You will yield much better results by spending your practice time on the driver, full and three-quarter wedges, putting, and chipping/pitching.

4) Be a great full wedge player (80-120 yards).

This means when you have gap wedge, sand wedge, or lob wedge in your hands from the fairway, you should expect to get the ball within 30 feet almost every time. PGA Tour average from 75 to 100 yards is 18 feet. The very best on Tour in 2004 was Scott Hoch at 13-feet. If you want to be a scratch player, you should certainly average 25 feet or so, which means eliminating the horrible wedge shots from your bag. Absolutely zero: chunks, skulls, shanks, or duffs.

You must be rock solid with a wedge in your hands and feel like you have a better chance of knocking it in the hole, than missing the green. Now will you occasionally blade one or chunk one? Sure, but for most scratch players, that should be a very rare occurrence indeed.

You’ve got to be able to hit the green from 100-135 yds EVERY SINGLE TIME. Not once should you chunk, blade or skull a wedge from this distance. Hitting the green is crucial here.

5) Be able to hit the ball solidly from 180 to 220.

You certainly don’t need to spend much time here, you really only need to be able to make consistent contact such that your distance is repeatable with the longer clubs. You’re not going to hit a lot of greens from this distance, so don’t fret when you miss from here. Just use your short game to get up and down, and try to stay away from the short side – especially in tournament play since the rough is usually up.

From 140-175, you should strive for 50% minimum. You’ve got to feel like you can hit greens from here half the time at the least. 175- on up is a crapshoot. You’ve got to get it on or near and feel like your short game will take care of the rest. Missing the green from this distance doesn’t bother you in the least because you know you will get up and down.

6) Have a good to great short game.

Spend lots of time on the practice green, and when you’re there, use your imagination! Practice some short pitches and chips, and ask yourself how many different ways there are to play the same shot – then execute each and every one of them. I’m talking bunkers, long rough, nasty lies, boring standard chip shots, downhill chips, flops, you name it. You’ve got to feel like you can get up and down from anywhere. Experiment, and don’t be afraid to look bad. Just get creative and do it! High, low, cut spin, go spin, bump it through the fringe, flop it up and stop it on a dime. You name it.

If you’re good enough to be a 2-handicap, you can play all of these shots, but can you play them when it counts? That’s the question. If you don’t practice them, you don’t own them. And to have a great short game, you need to own all the different shots. If there is ANY time where you feel you CANNOT get up and down from ANWHERE around the green, then you need to practice that/those particular shots until you feel you can get up and down from ANYWHERE.

One quick caveat: Do not fall in love with the flop shot. It’s a valuable tool to have in your “golf belt,” but it is over-used by many near scratch players that learn it and then want to use it every time there’s an opportunity. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t use the lob wedge – I’m saying don’t use it to flop the ball, unless the situation demands it.

Find wedges that you like then stick with them. Don’t change. Find your wedges then rely on them and trust them. They won’t let you down.

7) Be a good lag putter, which means controlling distance and seeing the line on longish putts.

The longer and tougher a putt is, the more conservative you must be with your line. And when I say conservative, I mean erring on the high side. On many tough putts, you should really visualize the ball slowing down and literally trickling into the hole from the very top of the breaking point.

The reason? Balls coming in from the high side are working toward the hole, whereas balls on the low side are working away from the hole. It’s amazing, but this seemingly simple little distinction eludes so many otherwise good players.

8) Be good inside 6 feet with the putter.

All I can say here is: Practice, practice, practice. Groove a stroke, and become confident with it. Practice at home, practice at work, practice anywhere you can. There is no “correct” putting stroke, period. Find one that works for you and that you feel comfortable with and groove it. And don’t be afraid to switch to a mid-putter or a long-putter if necessary to fight off the occasional bout with the yips. I’ve done that several times in my life, always with excellent success.

8.1) Putting Mentality

5 feet and in, you’ve got to feel invinceable. But realize no matter how good you are or will get, you’ll still miss 2 and 3 footers. It happens to everyone. Don’t beat yourself up. Be positive, creative, and mentally strong. Bob Rotella says the heart of the game, the essence of golf is putting. You’ve got to LOVE putting. He says if you think of putting as kind of a side game, or not really that important, what you’re really saying is that you don’t really love golf.

You’ve got to love putting. Embrace it. Look forward to it. LOVE IT. That’s the best advice I could give you on putting. Of course putting well means making more putts. Anyone can tell you that. But try loving it!! It’s damn hard because putting can be brutal on the mind and soul. But it is, I feel, one of the secrets to not only becoming a scratch golfer, but becoming a scratch golfer quicker. Truly love putting and the challenge of making all your putts!

9) Keep detailed stats on your rounds.

It really helps when you can look back over 40 rounds or more at your strengths and weaknesses, since many of us have a skewed view of our games. For instance, if you think you have a pretty good short game, but you’re only getting up and down 45% of the time from inside 30 yards, then you’re really not as good as you think. Keeping meticulous, detailed stats will tell you where you really are, not where you think you are.

And set some goals with your stats. My goals are for all of my stats to be in the middle of the PGA Tour pack, and most of mine are except driving distance, which I don’t track anyway. Now of course I’m not playing courses that are 7,100 to 7,500 yards long with 3-inch to 4-inch rough every week, so the numbers are misleading if you compare them to PGA Tour pros. But I think those numbers are realistic for good players to attain playing most of their golf on courses in the 6,500 to 7,200 yard range with light to moderate rough.

10) Read plenty of stuff on the mental game:

Golf is Not a Game of Perfect
Extraordinary Golf
Pressure Golf
Zen Golf
Going Low
Golf: How Good Do You Want to Be?
Etc. etc.

I saved this for last, but at the near-scratch level, developing and improving the mental game is probably the most important. Learning to control your emotions and your mind on the golf course is absolutely crucial to playing your best golf.

There are thousands of golfers out there with the athletic and ball-striking ability to compete at the regional/national amateur level or even the mini-tour professional level that will never know how good they can be. Why? Because they refuse to conquer the inconsistent thinking that leads to so many of their poor decisions and shots.

Mental. This is the biggest hurdle if you will. Number 1, you’ve got to believe in yourself. Not David Leadbetter, not Butch, not Hank, but YOU. Your way. Your rules, your swing, your strength, your ability, your passion. And don’t go searching for the perfect swing. Doesn’t exist and nobody has one. Your swing is the best. Not Tiger’s, not Adam’s, but YOURS. Do you realize there were literally thousands of pros and teachers who sneered and snickered at Jim Furyk? Look at him now. They said with that swing, he’d never make it. Look at him now. Believe what you’re doing and stick to it. Don’t waver. I”m not saying don’t get a teacher or don’t use video. They can obviously help. But believe in yourself and good things will happen.

Finally, have a support group. Your friends, your family. They’ll keep you grounded. Trying to get to scratch can lead to burnout, stress, and even anger. This game is truly what you make it. As long as it’s still a game, it’ll be fun. Rotella also says to make the journey the fun part, make the practicing, the hours the fun part. Don’t wait until you get to the end of your journey expecting then you’ll enjoy the benefits and rewards. It won’t truly satisfy you. At the end of the rainbow, you may be scratch and find that what you thought would be there when you arrived actually isn’t even there at all. As they say, be careful what you wish for, it may come true. That’s what makes this game great isn’t it? It’s a beautiful, beautiful game. The hardest game to truly excel at.

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6 Responses to “How to be Scratch”

  1. RR Says:

    Great post, JK! I don’t aspire to be a Scratch Golfer, but these are great tips for me to use when encouraging LG, and once I (hopefully) start playing myself.

    • JK Says:

      LG already has the game for it; he just doesn’t know it. The “Friends/family support” part is big here.

  2. LG Says:

    I’m incredibly lucky to have the both of you. I know I can do this. I felt this way about pool too for a long time. I just need to keep at it and have a little more time! Soon enough. 🙂

  3. LG Says:

    Btw JK, RR, JG, and JC have all expressed interest in playing. We might have our own little mini tournament group. At the very least, a pretty solid scramble group. Could be worth another RTJ trip

  4. rderflinger@msn.com Says:

    Well Said. I started playing golf in 1997, I was 28 years old. After hitting tons of balls (150-200 a day on days when I didn’t play) and more on days when I did play, 24 months to a 10 cap, 36 months to a 5 and 48 months to scratch. I’ve maintained a very low +.2-1.1 for the last 10 years. All the while, playing about 100 rounds a year. I love Golf, I love putting, I love to compete! Having something on the game in not a must, It has never meant anything to me, and does not make it more important. I still wanted to make my 5 footer on the last hole for 75 or 67 or whatever even if I was playing single. If you LOVE golf you really don’t have to “have something on the game”. Other than that, I think you described my process exactly.

  5. gail pimm Says:

    great advice I am a scratch golfer trying to get better and sometimes falling down on the “perfect swing” idea and mental weaknesses. thanks for reminding me.
    by the way I am a female so the yardages dont equate but get the point.


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