Breaking 80 - The Complete Guide

Breaking 80 can be considered the “final frontier” for many golfers. In this article I’d like to talk about what parts of your game need to be improved in order to consistently break 80. Additionally, I’d like to dispel many of the myths that exist.

Ben Hogan famously wrote in his book The Modern Fundamentals of Golfthat he believed every single golfer had the ability to break 80, and I completely agree with him. While it’s not easy, I believe that if you set your sights on a few key targets you can make it happen.

My entire golfing career has been about breaking 80. It took me about 15 years to get to a place where I shoot in the 70s in over 95% of the rounds I play, and I would like to share with you what I've learned along the way, as well as from watching other golfers.

Before we get into all of that, I want to dispel some of the myths out there, and give a little dose of reality.

The Myths

Here’s a few things I want to clear up before we get into what decisions you'll need to make on your journey to breaking 80.

In order to consistently break 80 you don’t need to:

  • Make many birdies (if at all)
  • Hit a bunch of fairways (you can miss more than half of them)
  • Hit a ton of greens (you can average as little as 6-7 a round)
  • Drain putts from over 10 feet

Breaking 80 doesn’t really look like most golfers think it does. You are not firing at pins and making birdie putts left and right. It’s mostly about eliminating the huge mistakes, and making sure certain parts of your game are strong enough to carry you through the round.

In my opinion, the things that are most important are:

  • Keeping your tee shots in play
  • Avoiding three putts
  • Hitting enough greens to make pars
  • Having a "functional" short game

On most courses you can make 7 bogeys and still break 80. If you start making double or triple bogeys, then it will become infinitely harder.

So it’s not necessarily about your golfing greatness, it’s more about your golfing steadiness.

You have to be really good at something, or pretty good at everything

I’ve been around all kinds of golfers who are capable of breaking 80 on any given day. From my own personal experience, and witnessing others, here is what I can tell you.

You need to either excel at one part of the game, or be extremely proficient in all parts.

What do I mean by that?

Essentially it all boils down to your ball striking, and your ability to score inside 100 yards with your wedges and putter.

I have seen golfers who are ball striking machines but have relatively poor wedge and putter play, and still manage to break 80.

Conversely, I have seen some golfers who don’t have exceptional distance, and don’t hit many greens, but they are magicians around the green and manage to save par plenty of times.

Or you can be the golfer who is a decent ball striker, and pretty good with a wedge and putter in your hands (but not exceptional at any of them).

What I can tell you, is that no matter what, you'll need to be a relatively good ball striker, to the point where you need to be hitting somewhere between 6-9 greens in regulation per round at minimum.

If you are someone who is on the lower end of that spectrum, then you can either devote your time to improving your swing, or make a commitment to improving your short game.

However, if you want to have long-standing success and want breaking 80 to be a normal occurrence for you, then I believe your number one focus has to be hitting as many greens as possible.

The stats back it up also. The work that Mark Broadie has done with strokes-gained analysis has shown that golfers are able to lower their scores much more efficiently by improving their tee shots and approach shots. His book Every Shot Counts is a fascinating look into the data, and paints an interesting picture for those who are looking to improve their golf game.

It’s not that simple though, and here’s why…

What direction will you choose?

Essentially what I am telling you is this:

If you want to break 80, the best thing you can do is improve your ball striking. Keep your tee shots in play, and make sure you hit a ton of greens. This will pretty much guarantee you will be breaking 80 most of the time.

You’re probably thinking to yourself at this point, “yea, easier said that done!”

And you are absolutely correct. Achieving that goal is much harder than it sounds because in order to improve your ball striking you need to improve your golf swing. That can be an extremely time-consuming process.

That is why I believe the short game cannot be ignored by the typical golfer who has time constraints on how often they can practice and play.

I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again.

Every single golfer on this planet has the ability to quickly improve their performance inside 100 yards with their wedges and putter. However, not every golfer has the ability to drastically improve their ball striking.

That’s where you have to make a decision if breaking 80 is your goal.

Where is your ball striking currently? How many greens a round are you consistently hitting?

Do you have time to work on your swing, and drastically improve that number?

Then think about your short game…

How often do you save par when you miss greens? Are you three putting a lot?

Figure out what the low hanging fruit is

If you can identify the part of your game that is extremely deficient, I believe you should put your focus there.

It will much likely be easier to make bigger jumps in that area rather than trying to get marginal improvements in a part of the game that you are already proficient in.

For example, let’s say that currently you are hitting 7 greens per round on average. If you are being honest with yourself, you believe that trying to improve your swing at this moment is not within your reach because you simply don’t have the time.

Additionally, let’s say you have identified that you are three putting on average 4 times a round, and you are only getting up and down for par 15 percent of the time.

I believe that if you focused on improving your wedge play and working on your speed control on the greens, that you can improve those numbers without a huge time commitment.

Every golfer’s game is unique, and I can’t tell you specifically what part of your game you need to fix for breaking 80 to become a reality for you. That’s why I believe it makes sense to take a hard look at your game, analyze your stats, and make a plan on where you are going to improve.

Let’s talk about what I think you can reasonably do to improve your ball striking and your short game.

Ball Striking

The golf swing is endlessly complicated. No article could diagnose what’s currently holding your swing back from producing more consistent results.

Here are a two big ideas I think all golfers should be focused on if they want to be more consistent off the tee, and hit more greens.

Impact Location

I believe all golfers should know what their tendencies are with their impact location. Being able to strike the ball closer to the sweet spot on every single club is an extremely important skill.

Here is a drill from Adam Young that is part of our Practical Golf Insider library. If you want to improve your ball striking I highly recommend this one.

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Balance and tempo

Another fundamental that I believe any golfer who wants to break 80 should work on is the balance and tempo of their swing. While I would never tell you to copy a professional golfer's swing exactly, you’ll notice that almost every single golfer on tour has impeccable balance and repeats their swing tempo almost exactly every time.

In another article we discussed taking the 30 day challenge with the Orange Whip. This is a training aid that almost any golfer can use in the comfort of their own home, and using it for just 5-10 minutes a day over the course of the month will help you feel what that balance and tempo should be in your swing.

Mastering this part of your golf swing will improve your consistency on the course, and that is what it takes to break 80.

Short Game

Your ability to score 100 yards and in with your wedges and putter is also going to be another crucial step in breaking 80.

I believe all players can see dramatic results if they devote more of their practice time to this part of the game. This fundamental shift in your practice regimen can easily result in a few strokes coming off your scores quickly.

Bonus Content:Be sure to check out my complete guide to putting.

Here are a few key ideas to work on in your short game.

Play Games

Most golfers don’t enjoy practicing with their wedges and putter, and when they do they resort to repetitious routines that really don’t simulate what a real round of golf is like.

This is exactly why performance games can make your practice sessions more fun, but more importantly teach you skills that you can transfer over to the course.

The absolute best game you can play is Par 18. It’s quite simple, and it will get your competitive juices flowing.

You can download it here. Our Insider Members also get access to a library of practice games that you can use for all parts of your golf game.

Get the Basic Shots Down

Many golfers don’t have any kind of guidance on the technique they should be using with different shots around the green. Here are a few videos from our short-game guru Brandon Stooksbury, who was recently named one of Golf Digest’s best teachers under the age of 40.

Standard Bunker Shot

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The Bump and Run

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20-40 Yard Pitch Shot

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The Mental Game

We also can’t forget about the mental game. Many golfers have the tools to break 80 from a physical standpoint, but their minds are holding them back. This was the case in my own game for a long time, and I didn't break through until my mind caught up with my body.

Aside from having realistic expectations, I believe the number one mental trait players should have is the ability to keep a clear head before each shot, and make a smart decision.

I can guarantee you that somewhere during your round things are going to get difficult. This happens to every single golfer no matter what their scoring abilities are. However, the ones who can focus themselves and prevent small mistakes becoming big ones will always shoot lower scores.

This is certainly important if you are looking to break 100 or 90, but it becomes even more important if you want to break 80.

You simply can’t make double bogeys (or worse) due to mental errors. Here’s what those mistakes look like:

  • You’re going for the green from the middle of the trees because you’re still angry about your errant tee shot.
  • Your ball has buried in the rough, and you are trying to clear a water hazard in front of the green.
  • Aiming at the pin when it’s tucked on a side of the green surrounded by trouble.

All of these are low percentage plays, and golfers who don’t have the discipline to play conservatively in these situations will mostly compound their initial mistakes, and it will fill up your score card with double bogeys.

It’s extremely difficult to break 80 with 2-3 double bogeys on the score card!

Here are a few of our more popular articles on the mental game for other ways to use your mind to lower your scores:

7 Ways to Get Your Round Off to a Good Start

5 Reasons You Should Never Give up on Your Round of Golf

5 Mental Mistakes You Should Never Make on the Course

How to Calm Your Nerves on the Golf Course

Don't Throw Your Round Away

Wrapping it Up – Breaking 80 looks like…

Breaking 80 is not impossible, but it’s not completely easy either.

  • You need to become a relatively good ball striker at the minimum. If that part of your game is tapped out, then look to the short game to make up the difference.
  • Evaluate your current performance (stats are a great tool), and make a plan to improve the parts of your golf game that you feel are the most deficient.
  • You need to become a better decision maker on the course, and find ways to reduce mental errors that result in big scores.

We have created a great library of videos, interviews, practice games, and eBooks for our Practical Golf Insider members that can help your path to breaking 80. To learn more visit this page.

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