Top Tips to Break 90
For many golfers, getting into the 80s is the sign of taking the next step. For most par 72 courses, breaking 90 means playing better than ‘bogey golf,’ which seems to be the mental divide between ‘I play this game because I enjoy it even though I suck’ and ‘I’m actually okay at this sport.’ It’s a huge psychological and physical hurdle, but one that feels immensely satisfying to break. In this article, I’m going to give you five top tips to smash through that barrier and into the eighties (and beyond!)
Take Your Medicine
This is the biggest, most important, and in some ways, easiest tip on this list. It’s also, for some golfers, the hardest one to follow: sometimes, you’ve just got to take your medicine.
Here’s the thing about breaking 90. If you’re good enough to be thinking about it, you’re good enough to bogey every hole. If you’re good enough to bogey every hole, you’re definitely going to be picking up at least two or three pars along the way. This means bogeys are your friend! And, here’s the dirty little secret: there’s nothing wrong with a double or two along the way either.
Let’s say you stick your drive into some heavy rough, or behind a tree, or close to the lip in the fairway bunker. You’re 180 to the green – a decent four iron or hybrid. Definitely reachable. But think about the margin for error. You could catch the lip of the bunker and leave it in there. You could hit the trees and go into further trouble. Is it worth the risk?
Take out your favorite wedge, and knock it 100 yards down the fairway, giving yourself a flick into the green. Who knows, you might get it up and down! Even if you don’t, the worst score you’re bringing into play is a double. That might feel painful, but remember this: on a par 72 course, you need to be +17 to break 90. That means you can get FIVE double bogeys in a round, and you only need four pars to balance them out – as long as there are no big numbers in there.
It might sound boring, but the biggest way to cut strokes off your game is to take out the ego. Forget the miracle save. Play for the green in regulation plus one. The moment those triples and worse start disappearing from your scorecard, you’ll break 90, no doubt about it.
Three Is the Magic Number
As a golfer in the low 90s/high 80s range, you’re going to have a lot of shots from around 50 yards and less into the green. If you’re playing safe – as mentioned in tip one – those are most likely going to be from the fairway. This is the range you should be spending most of your practice time working on.
I feel like I’m raining on your parade here a lot, but the big thing to remember is you’re not Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson. The pros are thinking about getting up and down from this range six times out of ten. Don’t worry about that. Don’t worry about getting the ball close. All you should be thinking is this: no more than three.
If you play eighteen holes and never take more than three shots from inside 50 yards, you WILL break 90. It’s simple as that. Which means you don’t need to get up and down once. All you’ve got to do is hit that green and two-putt.
So if the pin is tucked left, aim twenty feet right. If the pin is tucked right, play twenty feet left. If it’s at the back, make sure to miss short, and if it’s at the front, play a little longer. All you should be thinking is, ‘let me get my putter in hand on the next shot.’ It doesn’t have to be pretty. It doesn’t even have to be particularly good. But as long as you’re never hitting two wedge shots in a row, you’re going to see shots come tumbling off your score.
This brings us to the next tip…
Pace Yourself (on the greens…)
This tip might sound a little bizarre, but go with me: as a mid-handicapped golfer, the line on your longer putts really isn’t that important. Crazy, right? We spend ages reading the green to get that perfect line, we draw multi-colored lines on our ball to help alignment, we spend hours putting through gates… and sure, from 10 feet where one degree off can cause a miss, that line is vital.
BUT, on most courses amateurs play on, rarely are you going to have a twenty-footer with more than five feet of break. This means if you hit every putt at the hole, you’ll never have more than a five-footer back… AS LONG AS YOU GET THE SPEED RIGHT.
Speed is much more important than people realize. So when you get to the course, practice lag putting instead of practicing your ten-footers, trying to hit that perfect line. My favorite drill is to put a marker ten feet from the edge of the green. Then, try and hit a twenty-foot putt between the marker and the edge of the green.
With your next putt, you’ve got to get it past your first ball but still without going off the green—the same with your next and your next. See how many times you can do that. Then try it again down the hill. Spend ten minutes doing this, and you’ll hit the course with a great feel for the speed. You’ll be amazed how much that reduces your three-putts.
Work Out Your Safety Shot
This is a simple tip that requires a little work off the course. Let me explain. The biggest thing that dropped my handicap down was working out that trying to hit my irons hard increased by dispersion by about fifty percent. While trying to hit them, soft tightened it. So I took five yards off the distance. I thought I hit my clubs, and when I was between numbers, I always took the long iron.
My Dad, on the other hand, can do terrible things when he starts swinging too smoothly. So, under pressure, he’ll always club down and swing firm – it makes him more committed and confident and improves his results massively.
So work out your shot that you can hit under pressure. Maybe it’s a little fade. Maybe it’s a big swinging hook. Maybe it’s a three-quarter punch. It doesn’t have to be pretty or technically correct. As long as it’s repeatable, it’s good news!
Play Your Way That Day
Despite the twee rhyming in the title, this one’s important: play the swing you come to the course with that day. Getting too technical or trying to make swing changes during a round is suicide. This is a trap I fall into often.
If you’ve been working on playing a draw but get to the course and are hitting ten-yard fades… play those fades! If your ball is flying straight but lower, play for it. If you’re hitting all your irons ten yards shorter than usual, adjust. Don’t fight your body. Get those swing thoughts out of your head.
Play the way you want to play that day, and if it’s not what you’ve been trying to do, figure it out on the range tomorrow. The golf swing takes about a SECOND – it’s almost impossible to adjust during it. So you’ve got to let your body do what it wants to and not fight it. Again, it might not be the beautiful ball flight you pictured when you woke up that morning, but that doesn’t matter: if it’s ending up straight, that’s all that matters.
So play safe, play tidy, and play the swing you come to the course with, and you’ll be golden. Trust yourself, and you’ll be in those 80s before you know it!