Relatively few golfers experience competitive golf at an elite level. If you are talented enough to compete at the highest level, club rules don’t apply. You play straight-up against your opponents. No strokes. No dots on scorecards. No “four-for-three.”

Save the occasional gross competition (within your flight, of course), the rest of us – the Average Joe golfer – enjoys the ersatz thrill of the field-leveling experience that is net golf.

The elite of the elite play on the PGA TOUR where scratch play is the law of the land. If you want to win, you need to shoot the lowest (gross) score.

What if that were different? What if the PGA TOUR had a net division?

Well, now it does (sorta).

PGA TOUR – Net Division

I calculated every player’s USGA index from 1996 through 2019. Then I looked at every major from 1997 to 2019 to see who would have won if they were giving out trophies in the net division.

Here are the ground rules:

  • Only league scores count towards your handicap index.
    • You play part of your season on the European tour? Can’t use those scores.
    • You just won your third Korn Ferry event and got a promotion to the bigs? Nope. Those don’t count.
    • League scores only!
  • You must have a minimum of 20 PGA TOUR rounds to have an official handicap index.
    • You are a young gun who just turned pro and qualified your way into a U.S. Open but you don’t meet the 20-round requirement? Sorry, you can only play in the gross division.
    • This is a strict rule or else you will end up with shenanigans like this on the first tee (we’ve all been there):

Seasoned Veteran: “Hey, Collin, what’s your handicap?”

Collin Morikawa: “Well, I don’t have an official handicap yet but I’m about a plus 10.”

Seasoned Veteran (thinking to himself): “Yeah, uh huh… Plus 10. Riiiiight. Kid hasn’t hit an iron shot outside of 18 feet since the fourth grade and he’s a plus 10!?!  He is easily a plus 12 all day long.”

Results are below, broken down into four tables (by major). Bear in mind, we’re comparing plus handicap golfers, so instead of subtracting strokes, we add them to the easiest holes.

The Masters

The US Open

The Open Championship

PGA Championship

A Few Highlights:

  • Lee Westwood leads the pack with four net majors. For some, there is a bit of controversy here as two of those victories were won on a match of cards. But that’s just the way the cookie crumbles in net play. We all know you knuckle down on the most difficult ranked holes just in case the MOC is a factor. For those who still want to put an asterisk on these wins, the committee officially settled this long ago and considers a match-of-cards win the same as an outright (net) win.
  • Jack won the 1998 Masters.
  • Tom Watson won The Open in 2009. (Greg Norman won in 2008)
  • Several notable net major winners include Rickie Fowler, Charles Howell III, Rocco Mediate, Tommy Fleetwood, Hideki Matsuyama and Tyrell Hatton.
  • Lowest net major score: Mikko Ilonen in the 2014 PGA Championship (net 289).
  • Highest net major score: Retief Goosen in the weather-challenged 2007 Masters (net 315).