Professional golfers are even better than you think – and have the handicaps to prove it

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The PGA Tour trailers on TV often finish with the slogan “these guys are good”. Actually, these guys aren’t just good – they are far, far better than you think.

Every amateur golfer has dreamed of what it would be like to be a tour professional. Some of you may be scratch golfers, or play with scratch golfers, and wonder if there is a chance you could be mixing it with the big names on Tour. Without wishing to sound negative, I hate to say that the only way most scratch golfers would make it on Tour is as a caddie or scoreboard carrier.

The majority of top golf professionals played to handicaps of +4 to +6 before entering the professional ranks. Some current pros still hold active handicaps, and these serve to highlight how much better than “scratch” they really are.

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Bubba Watson plays off +7.7 at Isleworth Country Club in Florida, while Whisper Rock Golf Club in Arizona boasts many Tour pros as members, including Phil Mickelson (+5.2), Martin Kaymer (+6.6), Paul Casey (+6) and Geoff Ogilvy (+5.8). Obviously, if they were free to play there every week, their handicaps would be even better. 

My own club, The Wisley in Surrey, has tour pros who don’t have an official handicap, but I would estimate are playing off at least +6 or better.

And it’s not just the quality and consistency of the scores these guys post at PGA and European Tour events that is so impressive; you have to remember that the courses they are playing are the toughest around. 

They are playing off tees that make the holes extra long, rough that has been grown to be thicker than it would be the rest of the year, pin positions craftily tucked away to add drama, with lightning-fast putting surfaces that accentuate every borrow and break. 

Plus, there’s the small matter of the pressure of playing for your living, knowing that you need to make a birdie on this hole to pay the bills...

If a scratch handicap club golfer played a tour event, he’d do very well indeed to break 80. If he somehow bagged a spot in a Major, I’d be surprised to see him shoot anything under 90. 

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Ian Poulter is often used as an example that you don’t need a glittering amateur career and a +6 handicap to make it as a professional. Yes, you can turn pro if your handicap is four or better, but I wouldn’t rely on Poulter as evidence that doing so will kickstart a successful career, with millions of pounds in the bank, dozens of Ferraris on the drive and a Ryder Cup history few can match. Poulter’s handicap seemed slightly sketchy since he had no real amateur record to speak of, and he acknowledges that he turned pro to work in a shop while practising and playing to improve his golf standard – only then was he able to compete as a playing professional. 

If you’re battling to get your handicap down to four in order to turn pro, I’d advise you to have a think about your career plan. Those who have any chance of making it as playing professionals normally fly past that point on their way to plus-figure handicaps. Even prospects in their early teens are playing off +3 or better, and even they have no guarantee of “making it”. 

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If your dream is to be a tour professional, nothing I say can or should change that. Use that dream to fuel your determination and give your game your full commitment, working at it as much as you can, always trying to learn from others, and even helping other (less talented) players around you – you’ll be surprised how much doing that can help your own game.

I only ask you to do one thing, and that is to retain your pure passion for the game. 

Play golf for the right reasons. Don’t see golf as your one-way ticket to easy fame and riches, because it’s not. None of the current tour pros picked up a golf club for the first time thinking, ‘I hope I make millions doing this’. They fell in love with the game for the same reasons we all did: the addictive sensation of hitting a good shot and the never-ending challenge to improve. 

Keep playing golf for the right reasons and it will always serve you well, whether it ends up netting you a fortune or just taking 10p a hole off your mates. 

NEXT UP: WHY THE CALLAWAY TRUVIS BALL COULD CHANGE THE GAME

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