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

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.

The one number that defines golf for most people is their handicap.  This number, in and of itself, is useful for characterizing a general level of accomplishment in golf. A 25 handicapper, for example, is probably looking for consistent contact while a 10 handicapper is looking for direction on how to consistently shape shots.  A scratch golfer, in that respect, is probably looking to drop a few more putts and improve his or her mental game.  While this number tends to be the sole focus of the amateur golfer, I submit that it has little value in helping the golfer improve his or her overall game.

If we only use the handicap to guide our practice, we have very little guidance on how to become better golfers.  A scratch golfer is one who goes around a “standard” course in 72 strokes.  This feat can be accomplished without hitting a single fairway or a single green in regulation.  It could also be accomplished with the golfer taking 36-38 putts.  While neither of these scenarios is likely, they do provide support for the idea that the game needs to be dissected into its component pieces to focus our practice.

Regardless of your handicap, however, putting is the single skill that will influence your handicap more than any other.  To this end, I think it’s useful to have a “putting handicap” that helps the average golfer understand whether putting is a strength or weakness of his game.  This system is derived from a Golf Digest article.

The chart below is used with the putting handicap system.

Here’s how the system works.  Just like any other stat you would keep on your scorecard (score, green, fairway, putts), write down the amount of feet holed on a putt.  What that means is, when the putt goes in the hole, write down on the scorecard how far away you were from the hole on that particular putt. If a putt is closer than 2 feet, then it counts as 2 feet.  If a putt is farther than 15 feet, then it counts as 15 feet. Once the round is over, add up the feet holed for the entire round.  If you have made any 3-putts, subtract 4 feet from the total for every 3-putt you make.  At the end, you have your “total feet of putts holed.”  Match it up to the chart above, and you will have your handicap.  While this sounds complicated, here’s an easy way to keep track right on your scorecard:

(Personal aside about this scorecard: HAD I been able to make a putt on the back nine here, I’d have finally broken 80.  SOON!!!)

Just like other handicaps, the lower=the better. Thus, if you’re consistently shooting in the 70s but you’re putting at a 16 handicap, you should really focus on your putting and work to figure out what the problem is. Likewise, if you’re shooting high 80s and putting at a 2 handicap, you really should find out another statistic that is impeding your ability to shoot lower scores, because your putting is perfectly fine.  You can make this statistic more robust by writing down the distance of your first putt as well.  Over time, this will give you an idea of length of putts you are “comfortable” with.  If you find yourself making more 6 footers than the average joe (55-65% is tour average), then maybe you need to work on lag putting.  If you miss those knee knockers more often than not, perhaps the short putting drill is your “quick-fix.”

As stated earlier, this is only one tool in the array of analyses available for your golf game. However, it the putting handicap can really help you understand if there’s room for improvement. I know it worked for me.

A quick caveat to keeping stats:  While they can certainly improve your game, PLEASE don’t take so many notes that you are slowing down your play as a result.  Try keeping one or two new stats each time you play to see if you are getting any benefit out of them at all.  For me, hitting fairways and getting up and down more often are my keys to shooting lower scores, so I keep stats that reflect my progress in those areas.  Figure out what will work for you and go to it!  You should be able to fill out all of your stats before you reach the next tee, so please don’t slow down everyone behind you!

Please post in the comments section on any questions you may have.

JK’s Swing

November 27, 2010

Take a look. There are 3 shots in the swing–straight, draw, and fade. When LG was trying to learn the difference in shots, I sent this video to him to help him understand the difference in setup, swing path, and plane for the 3 different shots.

As you can see, there are subtle differences in the setup and actual swings between the three different shots.

And, the image below shows how the swing looks on path/plane, and how the hands get through the swing.

Please comment if you have any questions or would like any specifics. We’re happy to help.