Is there a limit to how good someone can get at golf?

JerkeejoeJerkeejoe Members Posts: 24 ✭✭
edited Aug 5, 2019 4:17pm in Instruction & Academy #1

I've been playing more or less casually since I was 12 or 13. At my best I was probably around a 5 handicap and at my worst I was probably around a 13 handicap (through I didn't have an actual handicap until last year). I decided to start golfing seriously a couple months ago. I joined a club and signed up with one of the top instructors in the state, who happens to be the teaching pro at the club I play at. I'm presently a 9.2, but that is likely a bit inflated as I haven't turned in scores in a while (I don't play competitively, so it hasn't been an issue) and I suspect I'm probably closer to a 7 or so. I putt every day on an indoor green in my office and try to get to the range and chipping green two to three times a week, including lesson days once a week, and try to play at least 9 holes at least once a week.

My question is whether it is reasonable to expect to get down to scratch in the next year or so. I mainly want to get better for my own satisfaction, but would eventually like to start playing some competitive golf. Is there a plateau that can't be overcome without some level of natural skill or is the sky the limit based on the amount of time and work a person puts in? I want to make sure I am not setting unreasonable goals and having unreasonable expectations (5 handicap by end of this year and scratch by the end of next year).

In the end, I love playing and find that getting out on the course by myself with headphones in is one of the most relaxing activities I've found, so I'm not going to be deterred from playing regardless of my skill progression, but I'd sure like to keep getting better and better.

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Comments

  • Soloman1Soloman1 Members Posts: 2,537 ✭✭✭✭✭✭✭

    You don’t have the opportunity to play much. Practice and lessons are great, but players who get to low single handicaps usually play two (or more) times per week just to stay at that level after they’ve gotten there. There’s no substitute for playing.

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  • JerkeejoeJerkeejoe Members Posts: 24 ✭✭

    And I guess that's one question I have: more time at range or on course? The average temps right now are like 105*, which is part of the reason I'm not going out and playing as much, but if course time will suit me better than practice time, I'll play more. The club is 5 mins from my office, so it's easy to get out and play.

  • ctsgolfctsgolf Members Posts: 181 ✭✭✭

    @Soloman1 said:
    You don’t have the opportunity to play much. Practice and lessons are great, but players who get to low single handicaps usually play two (or more) times per week just to stay at that level after they’ve gotten there. There’s no substitute for playing.

    This. You can't teach yourself how to score on the putting green.

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  • MtlJeffMtlJeff MontrealMembers Posts: 28,654 ✭✭✭✭✭✭✭

    I started a thread like this a few years back. I'm a scratch right now and i suspect it's not possible for me to get better.

    Golf is a game that requires a ton of precision in your movements, a lot of skill etc...You just have to practice a lot (at least 99% of people do). If you can play a couple of times a week and hit the range once or twice i think you can definitely still get better. I got to scratch maybe going to the range once or twice and playing twice. Getting some short game stuff in before or after my round too

    But if you're a 9 now my guess is you can definitely get better with the amount of playing/hitting balls you're doing

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  • RichsgboxRichsgbox Members Posts: 106 ✭✭✭

    This is a good question. I think like any other sport, there's a physical maximum but mentally one can always do better. Practice, practice, practice.

  • JJK947JJK947 Members Posts: 3,160 ✭✭✭✭✭✭✭
    edited Aug 5, 2019 5:02pm #7

    5 is very doable by the end of the year if you are a 7 now. 5 to scratch in one year is improbable but not impossible. It will take a lot of effort, especially since you have not been there before. As for your question of natural skill, it certainly helps a lot. Some people will take exponentially longer to get to a certain level than others, even given the same access to knowledge/instruction and time to practice. As far as plateauing goes, I think for anyone with good athletic ability, scratch is very possible with the right instruction and dedication. It may take a long time but there's no reason to stop at say, a 5 handicap, and think you've hit your peak ability.

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  • playar32playar32 Members Posts: 296 ✭✭✭✭

    Realize there is a difference between scoring and practicing. I always say there are two types of people who play, those out there for a good time, trying to pull off one good shot to tell everyone in the clubhouse, and those actually trying to play/score.

    You can work on your swing, and hit putts for hours a day, but to get good at scoring, you need to be able to stand on the 16th hole with water right and know you can get it in play to make a good number. Basically, can you get around a course without your best stuff. Jack use to do that all the time, if his driver started to get wild he would put it away for the round and just use 3W or 1 iron.

    Also, I feel, playing style has a lot to do with how quickly you can improve. For example, when Palmer first started on tour he did okay but wasn't putting up really low numbers, he made a ton of birdies but also a lot of bogies. They did a survey of pros and asked who was going to be the up and coming guy, and they all said Palmer, mainly because he knew how to make birdies, just needed to stop learning to make bogies. Point is, you need to evaluate your game. If youre a 7 because you typically make 2 quads a round because you don't just take your medicine after driving into the trees, thats an easier fix I feel than I topping a bunch of shots or not having good distance control.

  • MelloYelloMelloYello Upstate, SCMembers Posts: 3,521 ✭✭✭✭✭✭✭
    edited Aug 5, 2019 9:14pm #9

    I would guess there's a 5% chance you get to scratch by next year and a 95% chance you improve your handicap slightly then abort the mission, LOL. That's usually how it goes. It's one of those, "if you have to ask..." type things. If you want a million bucks bad enough you'll find a way to get it. But that's rarely what drives someone. It's more that they have a passion for the business they're in and the money eventually stacks up as a result of the relentless work ethic.

    If the best you ever were was a 5 and you're not even at that point now, I think you need to focus more on the process and less on the outcome. Scratch golf is a lifestyle. Sure, the big house, the nice car and the trophy wife are all awesome but it's a grind. For most folks it's more a dream than a goal.

    Just to break through the plateau you’re on and get into the low single digits you’d need a period of intense, structured practice where you really threw yourself into the game whole-heartedly. Scratch would be a level beyond even that. It's not a function of time as much as passion. If it's something you deeply desire it'll happen as a result. Folks who practice with one eye on their handicap burn out quickly. I don't see why you couldn't play 5-6 times a week and get there by next year but do you love golf enough to play that much? Very few people other than kids and retirees have the desire to play that much. But it's there for any middle-age adult if they want it. Nothing's stopping you.

    Most people who try what you're talking about dive in and blow themselves out getting half-way there. They get themselves fried and burnt out within 6 months.

    For the last couple of months I’ve been playing a similar amount (~2x per week). I’ve hit the range a ton this year as well. But like you, I’m finding that it’s really hard to get beyond a 7-8 handicap. I think that’s a common place to peak for working people. It essentially says that you’re capable of shooting 75-80 on a good day given the relative difficulty of the course you’re on and that you shoot 80-85 with some regularity.

    I was busting my butt through March and April of this year. There were a couple weeks where I played 60+ holes. I was practicing after work and playing multiple times on the weekend. I did lower my handicap from 15 down to 8 just by knocking off the cob-webs and figuring a few things out. I improved my putting and my driving for sure! But at this stage I’ve plateaued and would need to go back to that intensity of March/April in order to improve even just a little.

    But I’m busy. Work is taking priority and I can’t go out every day after work. Nor can I always get out there 2-3 times over the weekend. So again, it' s really just a question of passion. If you make the time you'll get what you want. Isn't that the case with everything? :)

    Post edited by MelloYello on
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  • JD3JD3 Members Posts: 4,798 ✭✭✭✭✭✭✭
    edited Aug 5, 2019 9:06pm #10

    @Jerkeejoe said:
    I've been playing more or less casually since I was 12 or 13. At my best I was probably around a 5 handicap and at my worst I was probably around a 13 handicap (through I didn't have an actual handicap until last year). I decided to start golfing seriously a couple months ago. I joined a club and signed up with one of the top instructors in the state, who happens to be the teaching pro at the club I play at. I'm presently a 9.2, but that is likely a bit inflated as I haven't turned in scores in a while (I don't play competitively, so it hasn't been an issue) and I suspect I'm probably closer to a 7 or so. I putt every day on an indoor green in my office and try to get to the range and chipping green two to three times a week, including lesson days once a week, and try to play at least 9 holes at least once a week.

    My question is whether it is reasonable to expect to get down to scratch in the next year or so. I mainly want to get better for my own satisfaction, but would eventually like to start playing some competitive golf. Is there a plateau that can't be overcome without some level of natural skill or is the sky the limit based on the amount of time and work a person puts in? I want to make sure I am not setting unreasonable goals and having unreasonable expectations (5 handicap by end of this year and scratch by the end of next year).

    In the end, I love playing and find that getting out on the course by myself with headphones in is one of the most relaxing activities I've found, so I'm not going to be deterred from playing regardless of my skill progression, but I'd sure like to keep getting better and better.

    Great question. It's like anything; once the technique is the same the better athlete (physically and mentally) will perform it better. I.e. I could use same jump shot technique as Steph curry, but he'll be better at it. So yes imo everyone has a natural limit at any physical activity. As playing vs practise, answer it depends where you are, what you're working on, and your goals. I tend to skew my limited time more toward practise because on the course I know you can't mix the two, and I want to ingrain the proper habits so firmly I know I'm not even going to be tempted to "go there" during a round. And of course if u really want to "go low" on ghin must weight it more on short game. My lowest index was 3, and that was a direct result of focusing mostly on short game that year, dropped 2 strokes. The pros I've played with that's what sticks out most; they just routinely get it up and down from pretty much everywhere. The exception is when they don't.

    Post edited by JD3 on
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  • MountainGoatMountainGoat Mid-MarylandMembers Posts: 2,049 ✭✭✭✭✭✭

    @Jerkeejoe said:
    My question is whether it is reasonable to expect to get down to scratch in the next year or so.

    No. You can probably get to around a 6 or so, but lower than that will be very, very difficult.

  • UCBananaboyUCBananaboy Members Posts: 1,090 ✭✭✭✭✭✭
    edited Aug 5, 2019 10:33pm #12

    I do believe there is a ceiling that players can realistically reach, but I think it's far higher than most people think.

    The average joe isn't going to ever be able to achieve a 115MPH swing speed and reach 550 par 5s with regularity, but I strongly believe that people of average or better athletic ability could get to scratch with a reasonable commitment to improvement. You would also be amazed how much your score can improve through better course management.

    My personal experience is that a lot of the people who I see or play with that have the athletic ability that I described above stunt their potential due to some combination of inconsistency (which can be fixed with a swing coach), ego, or bad course management (example: trying to force birdies or being awful lag putters).

    I'm not saying it's an easy path, but I think it is reasonably attainable for most with the proper commitment and willingness to learn.

  • FadeFade Members Posts: 1,205 ✭✭✭✭✭✭

    @Jerkeejoe said:
    ... Is there a plateau that can't be overcome without some level of natural skill or is the sky the limit based on the amount of time and work a person puts in?

    There is a limit to the amount of time and work a person can put in, so 'the sky' is not the limit.

  • cardoustiecardoustie haha, we don't play for 5's Tasmania to CanadaMembers Posts: 12,447 ✭✭✭✭✭✭✭

    It's a lot of work to be a steady 3. A true scratch at a real course is a lot of range work, min 36 a week and loads and LOADS of short game work
    I'm off 1.6 now and have been a tourney scratch back in my uni golf days fwiw

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  • Nard_SNard_S Members Posts: 3,440 ✭✭✭✭✭✭✭

    The fact you started at 12-13 is a major plus to getting beyond being a 5-7. Improbable to do it in a year, 2-3 years going about it the proper way, with diligence is more realistic. Every 3 or better player I've played with and talked to suggests once a week not enough and lots of practice besides that to maintain low single/scratch level. Get a plan and a Pro and a bucket of patience. Me? My 2 year plan morphed into a 5 year one. I'm on year 4 now, did not do a Pro, my plan was half baked and real life always calls but I do have barrels of patience. Good luck.

  • larrybudlarrybud Members Posts: 11,351 ✭✭✭✭✭✭✭

    The difficulty becomes exponential as you approach scratch, especially for short knockers like myself. I'm sorta hacking it around as a 3.7 right now. Last year I got down to 0.8 at one point, as it was light years ahead of what I'm doing right now.

  • Exactice808Exactice808 Just want to hit ball far and go find it... Members Posts: 4,598 ✭✭✭✭✭✭✭
    edited Aug 6, 2019 1:54am #17

    My useless $0.02
    1) Address your limitation. Actually evaluating what is the cause of your scores.
    2) Accepting those limitations or having the means to over come them.
    3) Applying quality change to those limitations.
    Rinse and repeat each stage and plateau.

    Some players have less plateau some players have more. Some players are naturally gifted others needs a lot more. I have an accuracy thread that was basically a nail through my ego and my golfing ability. The question is was I willing to accept my limitation or work on it. I chose the latter and finding another hill to climb, I dont know how many more are in front but I can accept or keep finding the next.... Sky is the limit.......

    The sky could be the limit, should you run out of money and time if you require that amount of practice.

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  • SNIPERBBBSNIPERBBB Hit Ball Hard SE OhioMembers Posts: 2,653 ✭✭✭✭✭✭✭

    For most people, the main limit is the person looking at you from the mirror.

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  • JerkeejoeJerkeejoe Members Posts: 24 ✭✭

    Thanks for the responses.

    Some more info:

    Swing speed is around 105. Shot an 80 on Sunday (39-41) and that’s the first time I’ve been out of the 70s (or worse than 30s on 9) in a while. My short game is good but not great. I missed a few makable putts on Sunday that I’d ordinarily make, so I wasn’t too frustrated with the score.

    Talked to instructor today about how I could best improve my scoring. He told me if I learn better course management and to be smarter with shot selection I can pick up a couple of strokes very easily on those things alone. I readily admit that I’m a go for the green type of player and that it gets me into trouble at times. He’s confident I can be at a 5 by the end of the year.

    The responses here are interesting. I’m curious to see how it works out for me. I’m dedicated to putting in the time and effort.

  • GolfjackGolfjack All about the rotation Members Posts: 1,157 ✭✭✭✭✭✭

    Who cares about limits. Just go for it. Everyone is different so you can't say no. But you do have to be able to get birdies (meaning reasonable birdie chances) frequently to be a scratch guy. If you're constantly getting up and down then you're going to have a handicap. Read somewhere that scratch guys hit like 55% of GIR. The rest you have to get up and down say 50% of the time and so you need to make some birdies to cover up for your 25% that you take a stroke. If you don't birdie some holes your path to scratch is so much harder. But with your swing speed you should be Ok in that department I think.

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  • rich srich s Members Posts: 729 ✭✭✭✭✭

    I think a person with any athletic ability that has never swung a club has a higher ceiling than the same guy that has played 10 years and is a 9 handicap. At this point both players start a journey to reach their ceiling by going to work with a great instructor.

    My daughter just started playing a few years ago. I can tell her a change and in 10 minutes that is her new move. It takes me months of practice to ingrain a new move. I’m a 3.5 right now and the writing is on the wall that my 14 year old daughter will be better than me in the somewhat near future.

  • MountainGoatMountainGoat Mid-MarylandMembers Posts: 2,049 ✭✭✭✭✭✭
    edited Aug 6, 2019 1:56pm #22

    @Jerkeejoe said:
    My question is whether it is reasonable to expect to get down to scratch in the next year or so.

    This forum has actual data on this question. How many 'blog' threads have we seen over the years where someone vows to take lessons and practice day/night in order to get to scratch? They carry us along for the ride, sharing lesson tips, practice experience, equipment changes and scoring results. Some even share their travels to one teacher or another as well as their meals.

    Have any of them succeeded in getting to scratch?

  • airjammerairjammer Members Posts: 1,077 ✭✭✭✭✭✭

    Haven’t followed many of those people so I cannot say but I’m guessing maybe 1 in a 100 of those actual got to scratch.

    The answer for the OP is no! Most if not all scratch players were or are obsessed over the game for a period of time to get there. If the heat deters you then it’s not in your dna.

  • Krt22Krt22 East BayMembers Posts: 7,361 ✭✭✭✭✭✭✭

    I think everyone has a ceiling, however I think most folks are no where near their ceiling for a multitude of reasons. The number one being the space between their ears

  • TB07TB07 Members Posts: 6,105 ✭✭✭✭✭✭✭

    Of course there is a ceiling. Hand eye coordination, athleticism, mobility etc. play a role. To go from 9 to scratch in a year is very unlikely. It’s not impossible but not likely. If you work at it you will more likely see a very slow gradual improvement over a longer period of time.

  • jvincentjvincent Members Posts: 732 ✭✭✭✭✭

    @Jerkeejoe said:
    I putt every day on an indoor green in my office and try to get to the range and chipping green two to three times a week, including lesson days once a week, and try to play at least 9 holes at least once a week.

    My question is whether it is reasonable to expect to get down to scratch in the next year or so. I mainly want to get better for my own satisfaction, but would eventually like to start playing some competitive golf. Is there a plateau that can't be overcome without some level of natural skill or is the sky the limit based on the amount of time and work a person puts in?

    From what you have said above, no, you can't get to scratch in one year unless you are a complete freak of nature physically.

    As others have mentioned, you have to play and practice a LOT to become a consistent scratch player. And that assumes you have a certain level of physical talent. There is absolutely a plateau that you will reach based on natural ability. The only way to find that is to work your butt off until you find it.

    Two anecdotal examples. I hover between 6 and 7 playing 3x a week but not really practicing. One summer I had off and played more and actually practiced some and got to a 4.8. If I practiced a lot I could probably get to a 2 or 3. My regular playing buddy got to scratch this year and had been below 1 for about a year. He plays and practices more than I do, is 8 years younger, and is just generally more consistent.

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  • ddettsddetts Roy McAvoy Sioux Falls, SDClubWRX Posts: 1,699 ClubWRX
    edited Aug 6, 2019 5:24pm #27

    @MountainGoat said:

    @Jerkeejoe said:
    My question is whether it is reasonable to expect to get down to scratch in the next year or so.

    This forum has actual data on this question. How many 'blog' threads have we seen over the years where someone vows to take lessons and practice day/night in order to get to scratch? They carry us along for the ride, sharing lesson tips, practice experience, equipment changes and scoring results. Some even share their travels to one teacher or another as well as their meals.

    Have any of them succeeded in getting to scratch?

    It's certainly tough! I'm one of those 'blog' thread folks and I am a little over a year into attempting to fix my swing and get truly better at golf. I've done 1 Monte clinic and two online lessons ever. I probably should've done more and perhaps gotten some in person instruction this year to aid in what I am working on, but some life events dictated otherwise. I wish I could practice day and night but I've got a wife and two kids that aren't really into golf, so I don't take myself away from them too much. I've gotten better - going from over a high of a 9-10 cap in the past few years to now a 6.6 but it's not as much progress as I hoped for this year. I've had to learn a lot along the way, not just about the swing but many other things like how to practice (still a work in progress), mental side of things, playing in competitions, etc. I'm enjoying the process as frustrating as it can be at times and it has made me hungrier to find more improvement.

    Good luck OP.


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  • MountainGoatMountainGoat Mid-MarylandMembers Posts: 2,049 ✭✭✭✭✭✭

    @ddetts said:

    @MountainGoat said:

    @Jerkeejoe said:
    My question is whether it is reasonable to expect to get down to scratch in the next year or so.

    This forum has actual data on this question. How many 'blog' threads have we seen over the years where someone vows to take lessons and practice day/night in order to get to scratch? They carry us along for the ride, sharing lesson tips, practice experience, equipment changes and scoring results. Some even share their travels to one teacher or another as well as their meals.

    Have any of them succeeded in getting to scratch?

    It's certainly tough! I'm one of those 'blog' thread folks and I am a little over a year into attempting to fix my swing and get truly better at golf. I've done 1 Monte clinic and two online lessons ever. I probably should've done more and perhaps gotten some in person instruction this year to aid in what I am working on, but some life events dictated otherwise. I wish I could practice day and night but I've got a wife and two kids that aren't really into golf, so I don't take myself away from them too much. I've gotten better - going from over a high of a 9-10 cap in the past few years to now a 6.6 but it's not as much progress as I hoped for this year. I've had to learn a lot along the way, not just about the swing but many other things like how to practice (still a work in progress), mental side of things, playing in competitions, etc. I'm enjoying the process as frustrating as it can be at times and it has made me hungrier to find more improvement.

    Good luck OP.

    Thanks for sharing your experience. Your improvement to 6.6 is completely consistent with what I posted earlier.

  • carreracarrera Members Posts: 2,597 ✭✭✭✭✭✭✭

    I would only suggest that as soon as the weather gets more conducive to golf, you play more (with others...not solo golf) so you can track your scoring progress more reliably. Good luck!

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  • ddettsddetts Roy McAvoy Sioux Falls, SDClubWRX Posts: 1,699 ClubWRX

    @MountainGoat said:

    @ddetts said:

    @MountainGoat said:

    @Jerkeejoe said:
    My question is whether it is reasonable to expect to get down to scratch in the next year or so.

    This forum has actual data on this question. How many 'blog' threads have we seen over the years where someone vows to take lessons and practice day/night in order to get to scratch? They carry us along for the ride, sharing lesson tips, practice experience, equipment changes and scoring results. Some even share their travels to one teacher or another as well as their meals.

    Have any of them succeeded in getting to scratch?

    It's certainly tough! I'm one of those 'blog' thread folks and I am a little over a year into attempting to fix my swing and get truly better at golf. I've done 1 Monte clinic and two online lessons ever. I probably should've done more and perhaps gotten some in person instruction this year to aid in what I am working on, but some life events dictated otherwise. I wish I could practice day and night but I've got a wife and two kids that aren't really into golf, so I don't take myself away from them too much. I've gotten better - going from over a high of a 9-10 cap in the past few years to now a 6.6 but it's not as much progress as I hoped for this year. I've had to learn a lot along the way, not just about the swing but many other things like how to practice (still a work in progress), mental side of things, playing in competitions, etc. I'm enjoying the process as frustrating as it can be at times and it has made me hungrier to find more improvement.

    Good luck OP.

    Thanks for sharing your experience. Your improvement to 6.6 is completely consistent with what I posted earlier.

    I think given a little more time and resources for in person instruction (everything has been online lesson, working on my own) I perhaps could've gotten it to the 3-4 range by accelerating the changes needed in my swing. But I would agree it would be pretty rare for someone who's been playing for awhile to go from a 9 to scratch in a year.


    > See my current WITB
    Callaway Rogue Sub Zero 9°, Project X Even Flow Blue 6.5 65 gram
    TaylorMade '17 M2 Tour 15°, Kuro Kage Silver Dual-Core TiNi
    TaylorMade P790 UDI 17°, Project X HZRDUS85 6.0
    Mizuno MP-18 MMC 3 Fli-Hi | 4-PW, Project X LZ 6.5
    Mizuno T7 52-09 | 58-12
    TaylorMade TP Mullen

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  • MountainGoatMountainGoat Mid-MarylandMembers Posts: 2,049 ✭✭✭✭✭✭
    edited Aug 6, 2019 6:40pm #31

    In addition to ddetts, now we can all follow grantc79's attempt (https://forums.golfwrx.com/discussion/1778247/my-paper-tiger-journey-1-year-full-time-golfer-job-starts-monday-7-1-19/p1). He claims to have started at an index of 7.9 and pretty much quit his job to spend a year getting to scratch.

    Where's the guy from the "Dan Plan" these days? I think he got injured and gave up (http://www.golfwrx.com/437894/what-happened-to-the-dan-plan/).

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