How to Play a Worst Ball Scramble in Golf

A "worst ball scramble" is a type of golf tournament format (or, as we'll see below, a practice game for individual golfers) in which the bad shots are the ones you have to play. It's the opposite of the regular scramble format, in which golfers' best shots are the ones that are used. Hence, the Worst Ball Scramble also goes by the names Reverse Scramble, Opposite Scramble or Bizarro Scramble, and Bloodsome Scramble (or Bloodsomes) is still another name for it.

As a reminder, the regular scramble format goes like this: The members of a team all hit their drives, and the best of those drives is selected. Those whose drives were not chosen pick up their golf balls and drop within one (sometimes two, depending on who is running the tournament) club-length of the selected drive. Then all team members play their second strokes from that location. The best of those shots is selected, the other golfers move their balls to that location, and then the third strokes are played. This continues until someone on the team holes out.

What's different about the Worst Ball Scramble? It's right there in the name. After each team member tees off, they don't select the best drive and then all play the next stroke from there. They have to all play from the location of the worst drive. And so on following the second stroke, following the third stroke, until someone on the team holes out. After each stroke, the team must play from the location of the golfer who hit the worst previous shot.

That puts a lot of pressure on the weakest and weaker golfers on your team, so make sure to cut those people some slack. It's the nature of the Worst Ball Scramble. But it also points out another difference with the regular scramble, in which you really want your "A" and "B" players to be very good, and your "C" and "D" players really don't matter that much (because their shots aren't going to be used very often).

In a Worst Ball Scramble, you definitely want the better golfers on your team to be great putters, because somebody has to get the ball in the hole. But it's probably more important for your "C" and "D" golfers not to be terrible than it is for your "A" and "B" team members to be great. (Of course, if you are playing a Worst Ball Scramble in which teams are formed based on handicap ranges, then every team's A, B, C and D golfers will be, in theory, roughly equivalent in ability.)

An important consideration before staging a Worst Ball Scramble is time. Playing the worst ball, rather than the best ball, after every stroke results in higher scores and longer rounds. For that reason, some golf associations that play Worst Ball Scrambles avoid 18-hole tournaments and instead only use the format for 9-hole tournaments.

Worst Ball Scramble as a Practice Game

A version of Worst Ball Scramble also exists as a practice game for an individual golfer, playing alone on a golf course that is lightly trafficked. This version also goes by the name Worse Ball, because that individual golfer is hitting two balls on each stroke, then playing from the spot of the worse ball.

The Worse Ball practice game allows you to practice lots more recovery shots, specialty shots, and so on. In his book Chi Chi's Golf Games You Gotta Play (affiliate link), Chi Chi Rodriguez advocates Worse Ball as a great practice game, writing:

"A golfer will develop far more quickly learning to play difficult shots as opposed to easy ones. It's also a matter of getting comfortable with trouble. Most players adopt a defeatist attitude when they find themselves in the rough, a bunker, blocked out by a tree, or faced with an unusually long iron shot. Learning to play from outside your comfort zone or in trouble will help develop recovery skills and in turn boost confidence.

"... Worst Ball doesn't always mean having to hit from trouble or a terrible lie. But it will increase the level of difficulty on every shot, and that little bit of extra work will make a big difference when you go back to playing only your good ones."

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