Handicaps are an important part of golf as they allow players of different abilities to compete with one another. A course handicap index can also help you set and achieve golf goals over time.
Most golfers want to lower their handicap index and some want to achieve scratch golf status (known as a zero handicap index). While a select few players can become a golfer with a plus handicap.
A plus handicap golfer is someone who has put in a lot of work to achieve such a feat and not easy to achieve. But today we’ll help unlock the secrets to plus handicaps and learn what is needed to achieve this handicap index.
What is a Plus Handicap in Golf
I’m sure you’ve asked yourself questions like,
“What is a scratch player in golf? What is the difference between a scratch and plus handicap? How many golfers have a plus handicap?”
These are all great questions which we’ll address today so you can lower your handicap index fast.
- A golfer with a plus handicap is better than a scratch golfer and shoots near par or better most rounds.
- Less than 2% of all players with a USGA handicap are known as plus handicaps.
- Becoming a scratch player is a great goal – with the right attitude and work ethic you can achieve it (or become a plus handicapper).
Keep reading to learn more about plus handicaps.
Breaking Down the Stats of Plus Handicaps
Let’s start by understanding what is the average handicap golfer.
According to the USGA, there are more than 3,026,528 players within the handicap system. Of those players the average handicap index in the US for females is 28.0 while the average for males is 14.0 – basically a bogey golfer.
It’s important to remember that a handicap does not equal average score.
A handicap is your potential score and usually most golfers shoot above their handicap. For example, if you’re a 14 (average male) you don’t average an 86 – instead your average is closer to a round in the low 90s.
Course rating, handicap allowance, and other factors can also adjust handicap indexes.
So, how many of these golfers are scratch or better?
Not many… according to Golf.com (which published a handicap index range from the USGA) noted the following:
- 0.1 to 1.0 handicap = About 18,000
- +0.9 to 0.0 handicap = About 11,000
- +1.0 or better = About 20,000
Needless to say, it’s an uphill battle to become a scratch golfer or get into the plus handicap range. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to achieve this rare golf handicap.
For context, pro golfers don’t usually have a course handicap index.
But if they did, most male golfers on the PGA Tour or LIV would be in the +5 to +8 range. That’s an impressive playing handicap and it might change based on the course rating too.
How to Become a Plus Handicap in Golf
I’m a +2.5 handicap (as of October 2023) and want to share how I made it this far. Make sure to read the “My Experience” section to learn more about my journey from shooting in the 120s to becoming a plus handicap golfer.
Here are my top seven tips to become one of the few plus handicaps in golf.
Play More Golf
The golf swing is a very, very complicated motion that people study for years if not decades and still never master it. Yet, I see so many male golfers trying to master it on the range when in reality, your swing is always a work in progress.
Instead, more golfers should play golf to achieve a lower handicap. Shooting lower scores comes from learning how to play golf and manage your game more so than developing a “perfect” swing.
Don’t play the same course all the time if possible either. Mix it up to see how your game travels to different golf courses.
If you do play the same course try out different tee boxes or play different games to add more variety. By playing up at the front tees or senior tees you can learn to shoot even par or better. This is what Bryson DeChambeau recently recommended as a tip to learn how to go low.
Develop a Pre-Shot Routine
After studying the mind in-depth and the impact of routines in sports this is no doubt one of the biggest tips to become successful. Whether you want to break 90, 80, or scratch – a pre-shot routine is absolutely necessary.
If you watch the best players in the world you’ll notice they all have rock solid routines. Specifically they have three different routines for different parts of the game; full swing, short game, and putting.
Your full swing routine will help you commit to a club, target, and make a few good practice swings. A short game routine will help you pick a good landing spot, assess the lie, and find the right club. While a putting routine will help block out negative thoughts, read the green correctly, and hopefully make more putts under pressure.
If you don’t have three separate routines right now I would say this is the first thing you should do in practice. Once you have routines make sure they have consistent timing too.
Work on Your Mental Game More
When you stop spending so much time on your golf swing, you can spend more time on the mental game.
Because if you want to become a plus handicap golfer, your mind can become a weapon. Or, it can hold you back from playing your best golf.
Over the years I’ve done pretty much any and everything to work on my mindset. This includes reading golf books, trying out golf hypnotherapy, different mental game apps, and even working with a sports psychologist.
I can’t say there is “one thing” you should do to improve your mental game. Instead, it’s a mix of different things to upgrade your mindset and get you in the best position to succeed.
A lot of mental training happens off the golf course too so make sure to read, write in a golf journal, visualize, meditate, and do anything you can to improve your mindset.
Practice Short Game More
Whether you want to shoot in the 60s or 80s I tell the same thing to everyone – work on your short game more often.
Is it as fun as hitting drivers on the driving range? Definitely not, but it’s the fastest way to improve your scores fast.
If you’re getting near single digits or scratch, short game is even more key. But it’s not about learning how to hit high flops or 30-yard bunker shots. Don’t get me wrong having those shots in your arsenal is important but it’s about mastering the simple shots.
Practice the basics to start shooting lower scores fast!
Get Fitted For Your Clubs
While practicing your short game and mental game is important, don’t forget about equipment.
If you want to reach your true potential you need to love every club in your bag. For the everyday golfer who can break 90, I always say the two most important clubs to get fit for are driver and putter. These clubs are used on pretty much every hole and have a massive impact on scoring.
But your fairway woods, hybrids, irons, and wedges are important for single digit and better golfers. Having the right clubs in terms of length, lie angle, shaft weighting, and more will make a big difference. Even the size of grips you play can impact your hand position, grip pressure, and tempo.
Evaluate all your clubs and see which ones need an upgrade.
This isn’t cheap so make sure to learn how to sell your old golf clubs online so you can use it towards new clubs.
Play in Golf Tournaments
The final tip to achieve golf greatness is to enter into golf competitions. Even if you have no desire to become a pro golfer, amateur golf tournaments are a great way to speed up your success.
Here’s why you should play in competitions like a member-member, best ball, or other format …
- Get paired with new golfers. This will help you learn from players that might be better than you so you can apply tips and strategies to your game. Learning from scratch golfers and players with better handicap indexes is a great way to improve your game quickly. Not to mention make some new friends too.
- Test your game in competition. If you think all parts of your game are solid, enter into a competition and I’m sure you’ll identify weakness quickly. Which is good because then you can practice more efficiently and turn your weaknesses into strengths.
- Create great memories. Some of my fondest memories in golf are performing well in tournaments. It’s a great feeling to see your game hold up under pressure and very rewarding. Getting out of your comfort zone and finding tournaments is an amazing adrenaline rush that most players love.
Just avoid a net score type of event if you’re a solid player as handicap allowances make it nearly impossible to win. But a stroke play competition or match play event is a ton of fun.
FAQs About Plus Golfers
Do you have more questions about becoming a scratch golfer (or better)? If so, keep reading through the most common questions and answers now.
What does a +3 handicap mean?
A +3 handicap means someone is a plus handicap player and would need to add strokes to their gross score.
Is plus or minus handicap better?
A plus handicap is better and means that a player averages around par or better in most rounds on the course.
How does plus handicap work?
A plus handicap is great until you find yourself in a net scoring format. In this instance you would have to add shots to your total score.
For example, if you’re a +2 handicap you would have to add two shots to your total round (based on the two easiest holes on the course). If you’re a plus handicap it’s best to play in a golf scramble without handicaps or enter into gross only flighted competitions.
What does +7 handicap in golf mean?
A +7 handicap would likely resemble the handicap of a PGA Tour player. In fact, Golf Digest published an article that documented Tiger Woods handicap over the years.
“Woods’ average index for a quarter-century is +6.7 and he maintained an index of +7.0 or above for more than a third of that time… But this shows just how good. It also shows Woods was at his best in 2008 with a +9.4 index—and not 2000 when he won nine PGA Tour titles, including three majors.”
He was a +6.7 for nearly 25 years and had a handicap of +9.4, that is insane!
My first high school tournament I shot a 124… a few years later I shot a 74 in the first event of the year. A 50-shot improvement came down to a lot of work at the range, upgrading equipment, working on my short game, and figuring out more of the mental game. I also played a few years in college before taking a long break from the game.
But a bucket list trip to Pebble Beach got me back into golf and eventually back into tournaments too. Now it’s a massive part of my life alongside writing golf articles like these.
The biggest thing I’d say is that it’s a journey… there have been a lot of ups and downs. Golf is not a linear progression to hit your goals… you’ll likely go through some slumps, doubt yourself, and question why you’re out there some days.
But if you just keep going, amazing things can happen. Learn to swing your swing, trust your game, and enjoy the process because golf can teach us a ton.
Make sure to get a handicap if you don’t have one already too. This makes it easy to track your game over time and hopefully help you hit your goals.
Setting goals is so important to take your game to the next level. Whether that’s breaking 90, breaking 80, becoming scratch or trying to achieve the rare plus golfer handicap.
A clear goal can make it easier to practice, improve your mental attitude, get lessons, and do whatever it takes to succeed. Whatever goal you set, just remember to never compare your journey to another player. Everyone starts off differently, has different athletic experiences, time, skills, etc.
Focus on your own growth over time and be proud of how far you’ve progressed.