Reminder: What Is Scratch?
The terms “scratch golfer” and “reaching scratch” or “a handicap of scratch” refers to a golfer’s handicap index. A golfer is said to be a scratch golfer when he or she achieves a handicap of zero. Only a tiny fraction of golfers ever reach scratch, and a tinier fraction still of teen-aged golfers.
When Woods Achieved a Scratch Handicap
Tiger was the ripe, old age of 13 when he first became a scratch golfer. Woods was born on Dec. 30, 1975, so he turned 13 with one day to go in the year of 1988. Woods’ handicap hit zero – he reached scratch – in 1989.
Woods was close to scratch for a couple years before that: He was a 2-handicapper at age 11. (Shaving those last few strokes off a handicap index to reach zero is usually the most difficult part of getting to scratch.)
Woods was already winning big tournaments by that time on the junior golf circuit, and bigger wins were to come. Two years after reaching scratch, at age 15, Woods won his first USGA championship. It was the 1991 U.S. Junior Amateur Championship, and he was the youngest-ever to win that event.
He repeated as Junior Am champ in 1992 and 1993, then won the U.S. Amateur three consecutive years (1994-96) before turning pro at age 20.
Some of Woods’ Other Young Milestones
Here are a few of the milestones in Tiger Woods’ golf career leading up to the point at which he first achieved a scratch handicap rating:
- Age 2: First national TV appearance
- Age 3: First broke 50 for nine holes, shooting 48
- Age 6: First hole-in-one
- Age 8: First won Optimist International Junior World Championship (repeated at ages 9, 12, 13, 14)
- Age 11: Had handicap of 2
- Age 13: First reached scratch handicap
What Is Woods’ Handicap Today?
Tiger Woods does not have a handicap today — no professional golfers do. Golfers stop carrying handicaps when they turn pro.
At the time Woods turned professional, he was a plus-8 (+8) handicap. Yes, that is extremely low. Various calculations have been made by others of what Woods’ handicap would have been during his 2000 season (when he won three majors), and most of those estimates come in around plus-11 (+11). In 2015, when Woods missed multiple cuts and had only one Top 10 finish, his handicap would still have been plus-5.9 (+5.9), according to a Golf Digest analysis.