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GAME IMPROVEMENT: Get the Most of Your Scramble Experience



I used to really, really enjoy playing in scrambles.

Back in my high school days, three of my golf-team buddies and I would take great joy in joining forces to finish in the money at random scrambles around town. If we didn’t place, we still had a heckuva good time trying.

In fact, I would argue that many of my fondest golf memories have occurred while not playing my own ball. Maybe even one or two were the result of the gasp purchased mulligan.

So why do I now find myself wishing I was anywhere but on the golf course after about six holes of any scramble I participate in?

Actually, I take that back. In the most recent scramble I played in, my group polished off 18 holes in just a hair over four hours, which by scramble standards is the equivalent of the four-minute mile. Kudos to the staff (and players) at Scott Lake for keeping things tight.

But that’s the proverbial exception that proves the rule. Whether it’s glacial play, my own lack of focus, suspicions of cheating, circus-act rule tweaks, drunken blowhards, or some combination of the above, the only scrambles I seek out these days are ones that benefit a cause I care deeply about.

I’m not saying all scrambles are bad, or that you should stop playing in them. I’m just wondering how I can claw back some joy out of an experience that used to really get my competitive gears turning. Maybe you’re feeling the same way.

So, over the course of myriad 10-minute waits for the group ahead to clear the green, I’ve developed a couple of principles to get the most out of your garden-variety four-player scramble:

Make sure you’re with people you actually like.

It could be a long haul out there, so it helps to have company that’s good company.

I realize this factor is not always in your control, such as in the case of corporate outings and such, but it’s critical to staying engaged with the task at hand over the course of several hours. One of the beauties of golf is that you can make fast friends over the course of 18 holes, but a scramble can be a bit of an intimacy overdose, especially if you’re sharing a cart.

If the chemistry isn’t clicking, that afternoon can drag, regardless of how much you want to drink.

Come to think of it, maybe that’s why I still romanticize those salad-days scrambles with the boys from Weirton Madonna High. It almost didn’t matter how we played, because there was no one else we’d rather be on a golf course alongside.

Of course, we usually ended up playing pretty well, which brings up the old chicken-or-the-egg question. I have to believe that friendship fed into the performance at least somewhat. And we all know that good golf is tons more fun than mediocre or bad golf.

Don’t let your expectations get too high.

This is a particular folly of mine, unless I’m absolutely locked in all day. (That’s a rarity, as any golfer knows.)

Remember, just because you’re all playing the best shot of the group doesn’t mean you’re going to feel like you played that well individually, even if the team posts a low number. Especially if you’re the ‘anchor’ player in the rotation, this can come into play big-time on the greens.

When you get three looks at a putt, any decent player feels like they absolutely should make it. When the ball doesn’t fall, it feels roughly five times worse than making a putt feels good. Gotta love psychology!

The same phenomenon applies from tee to green. You feel like you should play above your usual level, because of your innate belief that team competition brings out the best, or at least the better.

That’s all well and good, but it can also make the misses hurt all the more, thus beginning the downward spiral if you don’t adjust your expectations.

Don’t deviate much from your individual approach.

It sounds counterintuitive, but the mental freedom of a scramble — motivated by the thought that you should take on aggressive targets and play more carefree — can in reality hurt your performance.

Don’t get me wrong: Sometimes our best shots can come from knowing your teammates have your back. But I find much of the time that ‘freedom’ is just another word for lack of focus.

Just this past month, I played much better golf in individual stroke play events compared to the recent scramble. The only difference I could feel in the moment was that, in the scramble, I was a little too free-wheeling for my own good. Unless I was the last person to putt for birdie, I didn’t feel as much urgency as I would playing my own ball.

You might be different, but I feel my best athletically when adrenaline rises to match the personal stakes. Maybe that’s why I’ve been attracted to individual sports over the years, because there’s no one else to credit or blame.

Regardless, I know I can do a better job of forgetting that I’m in a scramble and prepare for my shots as intensely as I do when I’m flying solo.

What are your tips for playing well in a scramble? Do you share the same frustrations or do you always have a great time? Share in the comments below.

A 15-year veteran of sports media, Matt Gajtka (GITE-kah) is the founding editor of PGN. Matt is a lifelong golfer with a passion for all aspects of the sport, from technique to courses to competition. His experience ranges from reporting on Pittsburgh's major-league beats, to broadcasting a variety of sports, to public relations, multimedia production and social media.

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