How do you compare?
The key areas where pros are way better than scratch golfers, proved by stats
A common debate is how the best golfer you know would stack up against the best players in the world. Intuitively, we know the scratch player is not at the same level as a tour pro—perhaps not even close—but how big is the difference? Considering the average Handicap Index for a PGA Tour player is somewhere between +5 and +8, your club champion who plays to a 0 index would need at least three a side.
Where are the best players gaining shots on scratch golfers? Our new Golf Digest+ interactive, “How Do You Compare?” uses data from Arccos Golf on more than 750 million shots hit from golfers of all handicaps and compares those statistics to PGA Tour averages. We poured through the numbers to find the stats where there is the greatest difference between pros and scratches—and where they are similar.
As you scroll through the complete ranking of the various statistics below, you’ll notice a fascinating trend. The greatest disparity between pros and scratch players is in bunker play, approaches from 200-225 yards, and putting from 20-25 feet. These differences are staggering. From the sand, PGA Tour players average just under 10 feet from the hole, while scratch players average nearly 20 feet. Pros are also nearly twice as good on approach shots from 200-225 yards, where they average 41’3”, while scratch players hit it to over 80 feet on average.
Further down, mid- and long-iron play and mid-range putting continue to be the greatest separators. Taken together, we see that the more difficult the shot, the greater the difference between a tour pro and a scratch player. Touch out of the sand, precise iron play and rolling in longer putts are all skills that take elite technique and consistent practice.
What’s more, as a shot becomes more straightforward, it is harder for pros to distance themselves from amateurs. For example, from 50-75 yards, tour pros hit it to about 16 feet from the hole on average. Scratch players average only three feet farther. Tour pros are better from this distance, but not by much. As a shot becomes longer and more difficult, pros separate themselves.
The same idea is at play in putting. Though there is a substantial difference in make percentage between the two groups across all distances, that difference is smallest from 3-5 feet. One comparison that might surprise you: Though tour pros average almost 40 yards longer than scratch players, the percentage difference in driving distance is the smallest of all the statistics we looked at.
Before you scroll on, a couple things to keep in mind. First, remember these are averages. The scratch player at your club who is a fantastic putter might be closer to a tour pro than these stats indicate, for example.
Second, this is not a statement on which stats are most important for a scratch player looking to improve. Golfers have far more putts from inside 10 feet than they do greenside bunker shots in a round, so there is likely more opportunity to pick up strokes by working on these common shots.
Editor's Note: The PGA Tour averages are from the 2021-'22 season.
1. Proximity from the sand: 64.4 percent difference
2. Proximity from 200-225 yards: 64.1 percent difference
3. Putting from 20-25’: 55.1 percent difference
Pro: 12.39 percent
Scratch: 7.04 percent
4. Putting from 10-15’: 53.9 percent difference
Pro: 30.13 percent
Scratch: 17.34 percent
5. Proximity from 175-200 yards: 45.7 percent difference
6. Putting from 6-9’: 42.6 percent difference
Pro: 57.89 percent
Scratch: 37.55 percent
7. Proximity from 150-175 yards: 39.8 percent difference
8. Proximity from 125-150 yards: 38.4 percent difference
9. Proximity from 100-125 yards: 28.3 percent difference
10. Putting from 3-5’: 23 percent difference
Pro: 96.83 percent
Scratch: 76.89 percent
11. Proximity from 75-100 yards: 20.7 percent difference
12. Proximity from 50-75 yards: 19.2 percent difference
13. Greens in Regulation: 15 percent difference
Pro: 65.57 percent
Scratch: 56.40 percent
14. Average driving distance: 13.8 percent difference
Pro: 299.8 yards
Scratch: 261.1 yards
Once again, you can check out the full How Do You Compare interactive here.