Do you dream of reaching a single-digit golf handicap? Although many golfers aspire to achieve this, it tends to be where it remains. It’s hard to gain a handicap near what golfers yearn for, a scratch one. Irrespective of this overwhelming desire, though, just how good is a 3 handicap in golf?
A 3 handicap in golf is an excellent skill level and would put you in the top echelons of golfers worldwide as you would be able to consistently shoot three over par or better. While not at the professional level, playing off a 3 handicap will set you as a player of commensurate skill in the game.
Any player with a handicap in the sub-5 range is considered very good. Achieving this golf skill level would take a lot of time and effort in developing every aspect of the game, from your swing technique, pre-shot routines, putting and chipping, and your mindset, fitness, and flexibility.
Let’s look further at exactly how good a 3 handicap is.
How Is A Three Handicap Calculated?
Handicaps are calculated by taking your last 20 best scores and factoring in the course difficulties to arrive at the Handicap Index. As a three handicap player, the average score would be for example 75 on a par 72 course or 74 on a par 71 course.
In each of those examples, you can see that the average score above par is three strokes over.
Obviously, players have runs of good and bad form, and this is why there are 20 scores needed to achieve a realistic scoring average and a fair handicap index allocated. Across those 20 scores, the average score would be three over par.
What Percentage Of Golfers Are 3 Handicap?
One of the reasons that a three handicap is so highly respected is because relative to the number of golfers in the world, very few play at three handicap or better.
In the USA, the average men’s handicap in 2021 was 14, while women average 27.7. I have a separate post on this topic here, What’s The Average Golf Handicap In The US?
To give you a deeper insight and indication of how good a 3 handicap player is compared to the overall playing population in the USA, only 1.92% of golfers in the USA play off a 3 handicap, with only 1.13% playing off a +1 handicap or better.
Considering that there are about 24 million golfers in the USA, that number would equate to around 46,000 male golfers with a three handicap index. Less than 1% of players have a three handicap rating in the women’s game.
At this level, you would be able to compete in the top Amateur tournaments and possibly enter such events as The Open or US Open.
As you can see from the numbers, achieving this skill level in the game isn’t easy. In fact, it’s just the opposite – golf is hard. There is a stark contrast in skill between a ten handicap and a three handicap player – almost as much as between a three handicap and a professional.
Three Handicap vs. Pro Golfer
On the PGA Tour, the annual median scoring average is around 71, but then these are pros, and their handicaps (if they kept them) would be in the +4 to +8 range which is seven to eleven shots better than a three handicap golfer!
That just shows you how good the pros are. According to handicap index stats from the USGA, only about 6% of male golfers in the USA have a handicap index of three or better. For women, that percentage is only about 1.4%.
There are massive skill gaps between a +3 handicap player and a scratch player. Many three handicap golfers struggle to lose those last three shots to get to scratch. Similarly, scratch players often struggle to get to sub-par handicap levels as well.
So, don’t think that once you get to three handicap, the journey to par or sub-par level golf is all downhill. It gets progressively more challenging to achieve those lower scores consistently. This is why so few golfers ever get there, and even fewer get to the pro level.
Three Handicap vs. Five Handicap
To give you an additional perspective on how good a three handicap golfer is compared to a five handicap player, there is almost a 1.5% difference between the number of golfers at three handicap levels and those at the five handicap level.
Between 5.0-5.9 handicap levels, only 2.91% of golfers in the USA have this handicap. Between a three handicap and a ten handicap, there is around a 4.4% difference in the number of players, with 4.81% of male golfers in the USA having a handicap of 9.0-9.9.
These statistics reinforce how good and rare a three handicapped golfer is and the time and dedication needed to get to this level in the game.
Even though there is only a 2-3 shot difference, the percentages of golfers in the five handicap realm and above are significantly higher than those in the sub-5 handicap range and below.
What Makes A 3 Handicap Player So Good?
At this level, it becomes more about the mental game than the actual technique as by then, you would have achieved a high level of proficiency with your swing and stroke execution. Therein lies the actual quality of players at this level.
Unlike higher handicap players that can fall apart after a lousy scoring hole, 3 handicap golfers have a far greater ability to re-focus and come back to the structures and processes that allow them to execute continuously and brush off poor shots.
Here, coaching focuses on precise execution, course strategy, dismissing negative thoughts, remaining in the ‘zone’ for long periods during competitive play, and a high level of confidence in the player’s ability to make quality swings under pressure.
This again shows just how good a full-time tour professional is performing every week in front of on-course spectators.
Becoming a 3 handicap in golf is a significant achievement. It would put you inside the top 3% of all golfers globally, making you an outstanding player indeed and a just reward for the time, effort, and investment in your game.
Considering how challenging the game of golf is and how few players ever make it to a ten handicap or lower, being a three handicap player deserves the accolade accorded – but don’t stop there as scratch golf awaits you!