7 Confessions Of A Scratch Golfer

The PGA Tour is holding the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am this week. Not only will pros be competing against each other, they'll be alongside some rank amateurs. Needless to say, there may be some nerves on the part of the higher-handicappers, who will be playing with some incredible golfers...in front of crowds.

Believe it or not, this could affect your next golf vacation.

Have you gone on a golf vacation as part of a twosome or threesome? I have a number of times, and that has meant I've been paired up with an incredible range of characters over the years, from all across the spectrums of age, golf-seriousness and handicap.

My current handicap index is exactly 0.0. I could not possibly be more of a scratch golfer than I am right now. And I've been one for a while - my handicap has hovered between 1 and +1 for a number of years.

This is not to brag, but rather to say that I've been a low-handicap golfer for long enough to make some observations about how higher-handicap players tend to perceive me and others of my approximate skill level.

I've joined groups that ranged from threesomes of fellow competitive amateur players to triads of ladies who all shot 100 or higher, and every permutation in between. I've gathered a lot of intel over my years of playing golf.

So, here are 7 "confessions" from a scratch golfer that might surprise you.

1. We don't care if you have a high handicap. Seriously.

I've heard numerous times some version of "Oh, you're scratch? You definitely don't want to play with us." And, yes, there are a few scratch golfers out there who look down on anyone with a double-digit handicap. But they're jerks whom you wouldn't want to play with, anyway - I certainly don't. Yes, we can tell pretty quickly what kind of player you are, but we're not judging you. If anything, we're looking for ways you might improve.

The truth is that most scratch golfers just want to have a good time on the course. Sound familiar? Enjoyable company is far more important than just seeking out low-handicap players. I've had a blast playing with 30-handicappers, and I've been miserable playing with mini-tour pros.

2. We do care if you play slow. (But you probably care about that, too.)

Everyone hates slow rounds of golf. Sure, all else being equal, it's a little easier for low-handicap players to get around the course quickly simply because it takes less time to hit 70 or 75 shots than 85 or 90. That said, I have played with numerous bogey golfers who know how to be ready to hit when they're away, and who know how to keep play moving. And the longest round of golf I've ever been a part of - more than 6 1/2 hours - was in a college event. Again, this is mostly to say that scratch players tend to have the same concerns and flaws as other golfers.

3. We couldn't care less which tees you play from.

Because I play in a few amateur tournaments per year, I generally like playing from the back tees at most courses I visit. I don't expect any higher-handicappers I might play with to join me, and it's always funny when other players sheepishly say "Uh, we'll be playing from these [shorter] tees." That's fine! The great thing about golf is that there are lots of ways to even the playing field between players of disparate abilities. Speaking of which...

4. We're easier to beat than you think.

This may seem counterintuitive, but double-digit handicappers will take a plenty of money off their scratch counterparts at courses around the world today, tomorrow and every other day, as long as golf exists. That's because higher-handicap players - especially those who play a good amount of golf - will tend to beat their handicaps by four or five shots somewhat more often than scratch players. I've shot even par or 1-over and lost money to 8-, 10- and 18-handicappers more times than I can count. Wily golfers who know how to use the strokes they're given in matches to mitigate the gap in raw skills.

5. We get frustrated at our bad shots and rounds, too. They just look different.

If a scratch golfer is 100 yards away and hits a wedge shot 35 or 40 feet from the hole, he or she is likely to be pretty disappointed, while a 20-handicapper is probably going to be okay with that outcome. Likewise, after shooting 76 on an easy course, a scratch golfer isn't likely to take much solace in hearing a 15-handicap playing partner say "Man, I'd kill to be able to shoot that low." That 15-handicapper has shot plenty of 92s before - that's how a 76 feels to a scratch player in most cases. It's all relative.

6. If you want swing advice, just ask.

Trust me - you won't be the first to pick our brains about the golf swing. We're not generally going to give any unsolicited tips, but we're happy to help in any way we can. But take it with a grain of salt, since amateurs can't get paid for dispensing swing advice. Just wait until the back nine to start asking for a tip here or there - we probably will won't be terribly helpful after only seeing a few shots. At least to this scratch player, it's never a bother to be asked for my thoughts on another player's swing - I'm all for everyone getting around in fewer shots.

7. Bottom line: we're just like you.

A lot of higher-handicap players seem to walk on eggshells around me because I'm a lower-handicap player. But in reality, I and most of my handicap-peers aren't looking for any special treatment. If you're wondering how you can "get out of our way" when you get grouped with one of us, I'd suggest that you needn't worry. Have fun on the course like you normally do, and we'll get along fine. Just don't sandbag us in a match.

What are your opinions of and experiences with scratch golfers? What observations have you made about the differences (and similarities) between them and higher handicappers? Please share your thoughts below!

Tim Gavrich is a Senior Writer for Golf Advisor and the Managing Editor of the Golf Vacation Insider newsletter. Follow him on Twitter @TimGavrich and on Instagram @TimGavrich.
35 Comments
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Lou Palumbo

I kinda disagree with #5;

I see your point, but him saying "I'd kill to shot 75", the 15-handicapper is basically saying that he's impressed with your game.

Perhaps you've never been a higher handicap player and golf naturally came easier for you. I'm only a 7 handicap, but I was once a 25 and took a lot of practice to even get down to mid-single digits (and there are times where I forget how much different my dispersion is than it used to).

Playing with higher handicap player can sometimes help me realize how far my game has come and offer perspective. If I hear "I wish my average round was an 81" (from a 20-handicap player), I can actually take some solace and it can help me see that my average is better than it used to be.

Also, sometimes higher handicappers can even be the voice of reason when I miss a shot that I know I should make (like 30 feet from 100 yards instead of inside 10 feet). They might say, still a good shot. And, maybe, he's right. Maybe I am not considering the difficulty (as not all 100 yard shots are created equal in difficulty). It could be extra windy, cold, wet, or I may have an uneven lies and maybe I'm holding myself to the standard as if I'm hitting on the range in perfect conditions.

My point being that even a higher handicapper can offer you perspective. It can can also help keep your confidence up if you've been too hard on yourself lately.

Just being picky...Good article.

RICH

I challenged a scratch golfer in a skins game with my friends, accepted no strokes from the pro. My friends acted like I WAS SOME BIG SHOT kind of guy. No, I was thinking game on. I knew I would really have to play well to make it a match. But I was confident in my ability. I did par the course once, so I knew
I would be competitive. Anyway if I lost big, it would be a good lesson to find out how far I need to go in real competition.
It did annoy me that I had to explain to my friends I

Greg S

I am currently a 22 handicap and enjoy playing with real good golfers, as long as they are willing to play a round with me. However, I have teamed up with some very good golfers that have made some very discouraging remarks about having to put up with high handicappers. I can't imagine anything else that ruins my day. I had one golfer that yelled at the pro at the turn and left my group because he didn't have the time to play with high handicappers. So, unless the good golfer says he is willing to play with me, I won't play with low handicappers. .

Tom fanning

I play off 9 and my son 11 we had the great privilege of playing a round of golf with Christy o Connor jnr before he died at Adare in Ireland

Before he started he told me he was playing with clubs given to him by Rory McIlroy and for us just to play and enjoy the day

What was great was that he also said I will look at your game over the round and give you some tips at the end which he did it as brilliant

So we played quickly had a great time and then had a lesson at the end

A true gentleman sadly passed away before we could play again in Portugal where I had hoped to put those tips into practice on a return outing

Tony

To be honest I came down from 21 to 12 last year and I played with a couple of scratch guys while I was up there and yes standing on the tee the nervous get you. I was playing in a normal Sunday club comp meet my playing partner on the 1st normal good morning over and he asks "what are you playing off Tony?" my reply with a laugh "21 on a good day and you?" the reply of +2 made me very nervous. But after the first hole it was over. It's still to this day one of the most enjoyable games of golf I ever played. I know there are a few low guys out there that play tv golf as I call it. Roll a 10 foot put up just run it by a foot and after the looking at the line again for 2 mins walk up line the ball up again to tap in the little tiddler. At the same time I've played with 28 handicapper at the same kinda stuff. While it's in our heads that us high handicap golfers are going to upset the low man round we're wrong. Those guys are low because they don't worry about how many shots you've hit to get up as far as his tee shot or that you put 3 balls in the water on the par 3, they just play their own game. At the end of it all I enjoy playing with a low man and feel my game gains from it.

Dan

I enjoyed your article. Low handicappers are cool and they most remind me to take an easy swing and to spend a little more time to be careful on the short game. It is amazing in that sometimes our shots end up further from the hole than the previous one, and a muffed shot is a complete waste. Sometimes 20 shots can be wasted in this way, and 3 irons could get to any hole. Hit clubs you won't muff.

727 Sky

I play in a group with handicaps ranging from 0 to 28.. I honestly do believe the high handicappers have a harder time feeling comfortable when playing with the low guys than the other way around. I have also noticed that when a non sanctioned event is put together the guys usually flock together with more or less the same speed of play and comparable handicaps.. Makes sense...

It can be frustrating being a low handicapper and watching someone with a terrible grip aim stance posture and a swing that might get lucky and hit a ball with a small satisfactory outcome once every 5 attempts. I try not to watch.. I have seen scratch golfers offer advice to the poor golfer person and they might as well have been talking to a door knob with glazed eyes because the 25 handicapper knows what he has to do already and yet he asked point blank why he was hitting the ball so badly...go figure ?

Doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results, is well, dreaming or worse yet a form of insanity ..

I was lucky when I first stared playing for I had two friends that had played on the PGA tour for just about 7 years each and most of my friends had been playing several years with single handicaps... We (the PGA guys) played together in some tournaments (they were minus 2 handicap to start the tournament and I was 12 back then) We won some stuff and had a blast doing it.. But I swear if either one said I was starting to do something wrong or could do something better I was all ears and tried to be a sponge of their knowledge. Different mind set for different folks..

One big problem IMO about golf is guys/girls buy clubs and go play with their friends for a beer,soda or fun.... because there are 10,000 ways to move a ball down range whatever they find that advances the ball they tend to stay with that swing and that thought.. No matter the ball off the tee with their 400$ driver only went 125 yards into the trees; just an unlucky bad shot; no the one that went 150 yards and straight was a lucky bad shot too....

With all the free videos on youtube you just have to wonder, are they out for sunshine and fresh air or are they actually trying to play and improve at golf ? Back in the not to distant future it was lessons from someone who knew how to play or 1000s of balls on a driving range and still you could not improve a swing that started off, totally messed up, with a horrible technique to begin with..

I have fun with just about everyone unless they are a high handicapper (or low for that matter) and throw a fit every time they hit a shot or make a bad putt or want strokes on par threes that are 100 yards away.. If someone has been playing for a few years (established handicap and all) and cannot hit a ball 100 yards then they might consider a few lessons, some range time, or bowling IMO.... either way don't ask to play a money game.. A fun game for practice and sunshine...I am all in..

It is true a low handicapper cannot always beat a high handicapper (especially on par 3s with two given strokes)... As far as I am concerned (money game) no strokes on par threes unless the are over 150 yards. Even then cap it at one stroke or go get a lesson/ work on your game etc etc but I am not playing a money game to donate to your charity...

The first time I ever shot in the 70s I was a 12 handicap in that tournament and won.. It was just one of those days where putts fell and chips worked; even though most of the putts and chips never started where I thought I was aiming hahhaha.

When I play for small coins I zero out by subtracting my handicap from his/hers so if my opponent is a 10 he/she then gets five strokes for the round. I still get beat on a fair occasion when both of us are playing well..

The thing I really do like about golf is the company you can play with and the new people you meet to have a few laughs on the course and afterwards; some of the girls and guys both are a hoot..

I don't play the opponent (some people think golf is a different kind of tennis or foot ball match up mostly thanks to the T.V. hype and tournaments), I just play against the course and do the best I can, sometimes getting my lunch bought while at other times having to listen to the wife complain how expensive golf has gotten !! Either way it is a form of exercise that I don't get bored with and keeps me thinking about how to improve my game.. I play or hit balls every friggin day.. If I say anything on the first Tee Box is, "I hate golf"..

Low expectations... that way I never fell pressure to preform.. Hey works for me.. especially in tournaments.

Anyway thanks for the articles I always enjoy other peoples thoughts on the game. Sorry for the long winded rambling thoughts... They were just thoughts and probably not very well thought out at that ! Cheers

Alan Cooper

I'm off 6 and find there's more pressure on me when playing with high handicappers - they don't expect me to duff shots!
As for slow play - if you move quickly between shots you can take more time over your shots.

Bob Marshall

A couple of years ago I played with 2 single-digit handicappers. My handicap is 30. The weather wasn't the best that day and at the end of the first nine, I was ahead of one by one stroke and the other by two. Things reverted to normal on the back nine, and both beat me by several strokes after 18, but the front nine gave my ego a big boost. The best part was that both were genuinely happy that I was able to beat them on the front nine. We had an enjoyable day (it wasn't all about golf)and I have enjoyed playing with them several times since.

Chris Thometz

Had the distinct pleasure of playing a couple rounds with Frank Lickliter in Honolulu before the Sony Open. What a true golfer and gentleman of the old school. (Even if he did call me "Sunshine" most of the day!). I'm a 14 handicap playing to about a 24 those two days, yet Frank was as courteous and downright fun as a regular Saturday afternoon partner. Watching a touring pro play could have been intimidating, but Frank made it feel like a walk in the park, and had a few nice tips as well.

I'll be looking forward to seeing him win several more times on the PGA Tour before he hits the Champions Tour and takes ALL their money!

Go Frank!

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7 Confessions Of A Scratch Golfer
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