Scrambling is a crucial part of golf, but many people don’t even know what the word means. It is perhaps the biggest individual factor which separates professional golfers from amateurs like you and me. Being good at scrambling is what prevents you from walking away from a hole that you thought you played well with a double bogey. It allows you to get the most out of each hole, to capitalize on good drives and irons, and make up for mistakes. So, let’s answer the question; what is scrambling in golf?
What is it?
On the PGA Tour, scrambling is a statistic which measures a player’s ability to recover from a missed green in regulation. Imagine, for example, on a par 4, a player hits their second shot into the green side bunker. A successful scramble would see them get up-and-down for a par, or hole the bunker shot for a birdie. An unsuccessful scramble would see them leave the hole with a bogey or worse.
Of course, measuring scrambling in this way makes it an irrelevant statistic for many amateur players. If you play off 20, for example, you’re probably missing most greens, and you might only have 2 or 3 pars per round. As a result, your scrambling percentage is going to be close to 0. A different definition of the term can be used for golfers like you and me to make it more relevant.
For amateurs who play off double figure handicaps, it’s better to measure scrambling as your ability to get up-and-down from within 50 yards of the hole. For those of you who don’t know, getting up-and-down is when, from around the green, you get the ball ‘up’ onto the green, and ‘down’ into the hole in two shots. Theoretically though, you could shank a chip into a bunker and then hole the ensuing shot, and it would still be an up-and-down – just not a traditional one! All that’s required for an up-and-down is that you get the ball in the hole in two or less shots from around the green.
What’s a good scrambling percentage?
This is going to vary hugely depending on what your handicap is, and it’s generally best to just measure it against yourself. Take down your scrambling percentages from round to round, and see if you improve on them.
For the pro’s, the scrambling percentages are pretty impressive. So far this season, Jordan Spieth is leading the stat. Of 164 missed greens in regulation, he has made par or better on 70.12% of occasions. Most of the best players fall somewhere in the 60s percentage wise. Rory McIlroy is 9th on the Tour at 66.44%, while Rickie Fowler is a couple of spots back at 66.07%. As a point of reference, Dustin Johnson, who excels more in his ball striking than his short game, comes in at 50th on the Tour, but he still makes par or better from a missed green 62.25% of the time.
How important is scrambling?
Extremely. It is often forgotten, particularly amongst the amateur fraternity, that the length of a shot does not dictate how much it is worth. A 250 yard drive is worth one shot, just as a 6 inch putt is worth one shot. It’s often said that if you gave a 20 handicapper the short game of Tiger Woods, he or she would play off 5, and this highlights the importance of that element of the game.
An ability to scramble from a bad position is as important, if not more, as being able to strike your irons consistently. When people walk off the course and reflect on how they played, they often think predominantly about how well they hit their drives and their irons. For most amateurs, they’ll come off the course thinking, ‘wow, I hit the ball okay today but didn’t score anywhere near as well as I should have – I wonder why?’ The answer to this question is because their short game wasn’t functioning well.
If you can develop your scrambling, you’ll be able to walk off the course with a completely new feeling. You’ll be able to get in your car thinking, ‘wow, I hit the ball terribly today but I scored pretty well’. Imagine that! That’s what a good scrambling game will do for you.
Scrambling is one of the most important stats in golf, but it often goes unnoticed. It’s something that most amateur golfers don’t do well, and if this is you, spend some time focussing on how to improve it. Hit the practice green, and practice your chipping, bunker play, and putting. If you’re not sure how to practice these skills, here’s a great video by the Golf Channel which provides some actionable tips to improve your short game. Record your scrambling percentages each round and see if they improve over time. If they do, so too will your scores. If you have any more questions about what exactly scrambling is, put them in the comments!