I grew up as one of four golfing brothers and we were all fortunate to reach a single figure handicap by our late teens.
20 odd years later though I am frustratingly no longer a single figure handicap golfer and have begun thinking much harder about what I need to do to get back there.
So, how do you get to a single figure handicap?
Single figure handicap golfers have better practice habits. Better players analyse their game so their practice is specific to addressing their specific weaknesses. They also challenge themselves more by playing in different conditions and will adopt a conservative approach when targeting the pin.
Ask a number of players how they managed to get below a 10 handicap and you will probably receive advice mainly around improving your short game and practising more.
But while those things are true if you are serious about making the jump to a single figure handicap you will need to work on improving specific parts of your own game rather than follow any generic approach.
Purposeful Practice is the Key to a Single Figure Handicap
When you think about practising your golf chances are you will have heard the phrase that ‘practice makes perfect’.
However, for any golfer, or player of any sport for that matter, who wants to improve, the phrase they should instead be thinking of is this – ‘practice makes permanent’.
Repeating and practising an activity over and over again is unquestionably the correct route to targeting improvement.
But if you are practising the wrong activity in the wrong way it may have no effect on performance or worse still lead to the adoption of a bad habit which will make future performance improvement even harder.
It is therefore vital that in your search for that single figure handicap you make sure that any practice you do is tailored to your own golf game and not simply based on a generic golfing view of what leads to better scores.
In addition while golf is unquestionably a hard game there are things you can control.
If you can put some work in which will ‘control the controllables’ and combine this some purposeful practise you will give yourself the best chance of reaching your single figure handicap goal.
6 practical things you can do to get below a 10 handicap
1. Check your grooves and grips
You are in full control of your equipment so make sure it is giving you the best chance to play well.
Are your wedge grooves worn, are your grips losing their stickiness and occasionally slipping, are your clubs the best fit for your swing?
These are all things you can ‘control’ so if the answer is yes to any of these questions it may be time for an upgrade.
2. Know your golf game stats
A rough idea of how far you hit each club and your recollection of how you think you played during the round is not good enough.
There are lots of golfing apps now which let you easily track your high-level stats and one trip to the driving range can let you establish how far you hit each club so you know what distances are covered.
You do not need access to a launch monitor or golf ball flight tracker to understand your game better and ‘control’ another controllable.
More importantly also your stats should shape your practice for the following weeks/months.
3. Face your fears and focus your practice on those weaknesses
Once you know your game better you can start ‘practising purposefully’ and that means practising the weak parts of your game identified by your stats.
This is not easy.
We all prefer practising shots we are good at and it can be tough, and a bit of a struggle, to work on things we are not good at.
Practising the key areas of chipping and putting from 50 yards in will always help your scoring but ideally, your practice should specific to your specific weaknesses.
If there is a particular hole on the course also which intimidates you and is always costing you a number of shots go to that hole and if possible play it a few times in different ways to become more familiar with it.
You can then develop a strategy to become less stressed by it.
Coaches tip: “I believe you can take the true temperature of any player’s game by looking at four stats: total driving (i.e. fairways hit + distance), greens in regulation, scrambling and three-putt avoidance.”Hank Haney, former coach to Tiger Woods
4. Challenge yourself more often and pile on the pressure
Better players often change things up and put themselves under a bit of pressure in an effort to improve.
This can mean practising from bad lies such as deep rough or playing on different courses with faster greens or more hazards to help improve all-round golfing skills.
Other good players incorporate more games into their practice so it means a bit more.
Two greats of the game – Seve Ballesteros and Lee Trevino – have told stories of growing up playing practice games for money they did not have to put themselves under more pressure.
You do not need to go that far though!
Simply playing for bragging rights or who pays for the drinks in the 19th hole can help sharpen up your game.
5. Stop always aiming straight for the pin
Adjusting your playing approach is key if you want to get below a 10 handicap.
Single-digit handicap golfers more often focus on hitting the middle of the green.
Focusing also on simply putting the ball on the fairway off the tee is another element which separates single figure players from double-digit handicappers.
There is no substitute for good driving and putting the ball in play off the tee.
Finally from a playing approach perspective golfers who are able to get below a 10 handicap are more fully in control of their mental approach to the game.
You will hit bad shots every single round.
Try to get better at accepting that and you can get to a single figure handicap by simply getting better at not beating yourself up over a bad shot.
Better players get over bad shots more quickly.
6. Focus your warm-up on the hips, glutes and neck
Your warm-up before you play is something else you are in total control of.
You will never see a professional not warming up before playing and there is obviously a reason for that.
So even if you do not have time to get to the course early to hit some balls before your round warm-up the main muscles you are going to be using during the round.
Focus on those hips, glutes and neck / upper spine particularly.
Better players, however, will typically always make time to hit some practice shots before they reach the course.
What Percentage of Golfers Have a Single Figure Handicap?
Where you stand in relation to your golfing peers is always a big discussion point for golfers and should you manage to reach a single-digit handicap it is good to know what company you are keeping.
The United States Golfers Association’s (USGA) analysis of the men’s game in the US shows that 31.31% of players play off a single figure handicap of 9.9 or better.
Close to half of this single figure group (14.24%) have handicaps of between 7 and 9.9 so it is clear that progressing down the single figure ranks gets increasing hard as you head towards the very low handicaps.
Only 1.6% of US men golfers play off scratch or better.
By comparison, the USGA’s statistics show only 4.28% of women golfers have reached a single-digit handicap. And only 0.37% of US women golfers have achieved a handicap of scratch.
The average handicap for men golfers in the US is approximately 14.3 compared to an average handicap of 26.5 for women.
How Long Does it Take to Reach a Single Figure Handicap?
Given the variance in ages when people take up the game of golf this is a very difficult question to answer.
A player starting golf early in life, for example 3-4 years old, is unlikely to be able to hit the ball far enough for a number of years to start getting close to reaching a single figure handicap.
To measure how long it takes to reach a single figure handicap in terms of the number of elapsed years and months is therefore difficult for comparative purposes.
The former world number 1 Greg Norman, for example, took up golf at 15, after caddying for his mother, and was a scratch golfer within 18 months.
That is unquestionably an exceptional case and a more accurate measure is probably the number of hours a player would need to spend playing and practising to achieve a single-digit handicap.
Professional players can spend more than 6 hours a day practising. Others estimate that it takes players between 3-4 hours a day of practice to reach a scratch handicap.
It would, therefore, seem reasonable to suggest a cumulative amount of playing and practice time equating to an hour a day over a number of years would be required to achieve a single figure handicap.
That is a decent time commitment to most likely fit in around a busy family life.
It is therefore important to think before you start any quest to achieve that elusive single figure handicap whether you are willing to spend the time to achieve it.
If you do decide to go for it though, and achieve it, it is clearly an excellent sporting achievement and one to be proud of.
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Is a 10 handicap in golf good? In the USA, a 10 golf handicap is well above average in both the men’s and women’s game. For men the average handicap is 14.3 and only 31.1% of players have a handicap of 10 or better. This compares to an average women’s handicap of 26.5 and only 4.28% of women golfers with a handicap 10 or below.