Selecting the Right Ball in a Scramble Tournament

I am on a bit of a tangent talking about scramble golf tournaments lately because of the discussion my first question a few days ago generated on Twitter. Today’s post will be the last in this series and then I will start to focus on the Ryder Cup! The theme of this post is selecting the right ball to play after the drive or in the case of a par 5, the third shot if you are on the green. It is a tough decision sometimes, but I have general guidelines I follow that helps easy the decision making process.

The question that sparked this article:

This is a great question. The reason for the dilemma is that most amateurs would like to hit the shot they are most comfortable. Of course this makes sense, who wouldn’t. However, the best shot for one player may not be the best for the team. This is where many discussions take place for most teams.

Before moving forward, it is important to note that I believe that most ball selecting decisions are directly liked to the handicap of the player. The lower the handicap, the more willing the player is to attempt a more challenging shot that is closer to the green. The higher handicap player is more likely to want a full swing shot farther from the green. Additionally, the higher handicap player will avoid most shots from the rough even though they can place the ball. Overall, it comes down to confidence during shot making.

As my teams navigates the course, most shots are “no brainers” because they are in the fairway with a good approach angle to the green. It is the closest ball to the green or the yardage given up is not that discernible. So, we all quickly agree and move on. These obviously do not take much brain power, but are important because it does demonstrate some flexibility when choosing the next shot.

The other shots is where my guidelines take effect. I have honed these over the years to fit my game, but to take into account the other players. As the anchor, some decisions automatically default to me, but this is not always the case. So here is a list of in order of priority:

  • Distance is king. The closer we are to the green the better. However, distance is over ruled if the shot is near impossible or so difficult that I or another player are the only ones who have a chance to make it. Then, we move to the next guideline.
  • Angle of approach. I will gladly sacrifice a few yards for a more advantageous shot to the green. It makes no sense to hit a 40 yard shot over a bunker when a 50 yard shot with no hazards is available. This is an important point, the decision making process must remain flexible.
  • The lie of the ball. Obviously, as shot from the fairway is preferable. Personally, I am not fussed if we are in the rough because in a scramble, I can place the ball. Therefore, I will always have a good lie. Unfortunately other players are not as confident. So short grass becomes a major consideration.
  • The unknown. This is the one guideline that can overrule all the others. There are some unknown factors that cannot be anticipated that can change everything. For example if one player is extremely hot chipping, I would let them pick the shot they want and keep doing so until they cool off. It only makes sense to allow the unknown (and be able to recognize it) be a part of the decision making process.

There you have it. My guidelines are not overly complicated, but do serve my team well. There is a ball selecting process, but not one so rigid that it hurts the overall goal of the lowest score possible. On a side note, I won many scramble events through the years and winning comes down to two things, chipping and putting. So my guidelines are designed to maximize any advantage of our short game.

Do you have a strategy for selecting the right ball during a scramble tournament?

I am a grateful golfer! See you on the links!

8 thoughts on “Selecting the Right Ball in a Scramble Tournament

  1. Hi Jim,
    In our Scramble events, called Ambrose over here in NZ, each player must take a certain number of tee shots. So when you have a high handicap player with a reasonable tee shot, it is best to take it. It is not so good to come near the end of the round and the higher handicap player still needs to have a tee shot used up, and he hits one in the rough. Strategy is key when playing Scramble with mixed high and low handicaps, that have never played together before.
    Hope rehab is going well.


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