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Playing competitive golf at any level can be a daunting prospect, but when you’re playing with a scratch handicap golfer, or a pro, it’s natural to feel a touch nervous.

But, the next time you get paired with one of the better players at your club, you shouldn’t feel worried. Instead, there are some things you can focus on that will help you both of you enjoy your round, and hopefully play your best.

I’m certainly not claiming to be the best player at my club – my handicap index is around three – but I’ve played with golfers who play at a very high level. Believe it or not, it’s really not as daunting as you might expect, either. Whether you’re playing nine holes after work, or playing in the club championship, there are some little things you can do to make your experience, and your scratch playing partner’s experience, that bit more enjoyable.

So here’s a rundown of some dos and don’ts for when you’re next teeing up with a scratch golfer…

DO learn from them

If you’re used to playing with golfers that tend not to break 90 on a regular basis, then you should see playing with a scratch player as something of an opportunity.

While you still want to focus on your game, when they’re up to play, take a moment to watch what they do. Maybe they read their putts in a certain way, or their pre-shot routine is different to yours.

It’s small things, but if you can pick up a few pointers on course management, or even technique on certain shots, then it can certainly help you the next time you tee it up.

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DON’T treat your round like a free lesson

This one comes with a slight caveat, but on the whole, if you’re playing with a scratch player, the last thing they want to do be doing is giving you a free lesson on every fairway. This definitely applies if you’ve got a scorecard in your pocket.

Let’s say, however, you’re playing a social game and you’re waiting on the group in front, feel free to ask for a little pointer. Don’t expect your swing to be miraculously fixed, but you might get a little steer in the right direction.

Playing with a scratch golfer
Rory McIlroy walks with former footballers Gareth Bale and Jermaine Jenas at the BMW PGA Championship. (Credit: Getty Images)

DO play your own game

No matter what level you play at, I’m almost certain that your scratch-level playing partner has played with someone worse than you. Don’t feel like you’re holding them up by taking more shots than them, because you’re not.

A good player would much rather you focussed on playing your own game, no matter how many more shots you’re taking, than trying to rush round the course from fear of holding someone else up.

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DON’T be a spectator

Although you want to pick up some tips from a top level player, the last thing they need is for you to be a spectator all day. It won’t help their game and it certainly won’t help yours.

If your ball is 50 yards away from your partner’s, as much as you might want to stand beside them and get a close look at their swing, you’re only going to slow things up and put them off.

By all means, get a close look at their swing on the tee, but be sure to give space. If you only want to watch golf, go and watch the pros.

DO say “nice shot” – but only when it really is

I’ve played with high handicappers who will say nothing to me after I hit an iron shot close to the hole. Sure, low-handicap players might have higher expectations, but don’t be afraid to say ‘nice shot’ when your scratch playing partner hits it close.

This point does come with a caveat, though. While it’s great to hear praise when we legitimately hit a nice shot, getting adulation when a well struck shot is heading out of bounds is the quickest way to upset a decent player.

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DON’T be embarrassed when you hit a bad shot

No matter what level of golf you play at, everyone will hit terrible shots from time to time. Believe me when I say that good players will not think any less of you when you duff it, shank it, top it, or miss a tap-in.

In fact, they probably won’t even remember that shot when you’re shaking hands on the 18th.

The better the standard of player, the more likely it is they’ll be too focussed on their own game to notice what their playing partner is doing. So, don’t feel the need to apologise when your ball is heading for the trees.

Finally – and perhaps most importantly…

Playing with a scratch golfer
Jon Rahm walks with Tom Holland at the BMW PGA Championship Pro Am. (Credit: Getty)

DO enjoy it

Next time you get paired with a local county player in the Wednesday medal, don’t treat it like the Masters.

No matter what the number beside their name on the scorecard says, a scratch golfer is still human. Even in a competitive game of golf, don’t be afraid to talk about the usual topics you would with an average player.

Just because someone swings a golf club better than you, doesn’t mean they don’t want to chat about the football.

Chill out, and enjoy yourself. And they will too.


author headshot

Lewis Fraser As bunkered’s Performance Editor, Lewis oversees the content that’s designed to make you a better player. From the latest gear to tuition, nutrition, strategy and more, he’s the man. A graduate of the University of Stirling, Lewis joined bunkered in 2021. Formerly a caddie at Castle Stuart Golf Links, he is a member of Bathgate Golf Club where he plays off four.

Performance Editor

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