Scratch Golfer FAQs: Behind the Term + Practical Tips

Updated February 22, 2022
Scratch golfer hits with caddy
    Scratch golfer swings with caddy
    Getty Image License

Does the term scratch golfer have you scratching your head? You’re not alone. There is a difference between scratch and pro golfers and there are also frequently asked questions beyond that. Here are scratch golf details along with what you can do to reach that level of play.

What Is a Scratch Golfer?

The term scratch is something you hear in a lot of golf circles. Whether it refers to a player at your club or someone trying to make it to the highest levels of the game, the term scratch gets thrown around a lot by people who don't quite fully understand what it means.

Scratch Golfer Definition

The USGA defines a scratch player as "a player with a Handicap Index of 0.0" and uses the definition of a scratch player to define several other parameters in handicapping. For example, course rating is defined as "an indication of the difficulty of a golf course for the scratch player under normal course and weather conditions."

A scratch golfer is skilled in all facets of the game and their score deviation is smaller than that of higher handicap players. For example, an 8-handicap player is likely to shoot a score around 80. However, it isn’t out of ordinary for that 8 handicap player to have a bad day and shoot 88. Even on a bad day, a scratch golfer will rarely shoot a score above the 70s.

Scratch golfers make up less than 2% of the golfing population, with just 1.85% of men carrying a handicap of 0.0 or better, and 0.69% of women.


How Is Scratch Different From Pro?

While scratch golfers are competitive against par, professional golfers make a living deep in red figures. Professional golfers don't play to a handicap, but if they did, it would be somewhere between 5-8 strokes better than the scratch golfer.

What Does Being Scratch Get You?

As a scratch golfer, you can often compete in gross competitions and not have to worry about giving strokes to other players. In addition, anyone with a USGA handicap of 1.4 or better is allowed to enter U.S. Open qualifiers. These are the open events that lead up to the U.S. Open each year that allow the chance for the best amateurs and professionals who aren't already qualified to try and make it into the U.S. Open. Scratch golfers can compete in those qualifiers.


How to Become a Scratch Golfer

Getting to be a scratch golfer takes years of hard work and countless hours of practice. Some people say that making the jump from being a 10 handicap to a 3 is significantly easier than getting from a 3 to scratch. That's because when you're playing at that high of a level, there simply aren't as many shots left to save.

Quite possibly, the most important step you can take to become a scratch golfer is to find a certified instructor who knows how to get a player to the highest level. Both the PGA of America and the LPGA have resources online to find the right coach.

Beyond having the right instruction, playing in as many amateur golf tournaments as possible is key to leveling up your game. The competition allows you to better understand the level you aspire to, and how hard you have to work to continue to grow as a player.