Breaking 90 is probably the most popular milestone for the majority of golfers. Shooting in the eighties signifies that you have reached an above-average level of golf, and it’s certainly a worthy goal to work towards.
Golfers don’t have a realistic image in their minds of what breaking 90 actually looks like though. Shooting in the eighties is a careful balance between limiting mistakes, and hitting great shots. At this level of golf you need to have both, but it's actually more about limiting major errors.
In this article I’m going to take you through the whole process of what it takes to break 90, and it all starts with your expectations. Let’s get to it!
What to expect
The first thing to leave behind on your quest to break 90 is aggressiveness.
You do not need to play aggressive golf to break 90. A conservative game plan will get the job done.
Some players might scoff at this idea because they don’t like reeling it in, and prefer to “let it rip” out there. That’s OK if that’s your prerogative, but just realize that you are inherently making it more difficult for yourself to break 90. There is a very small percentage of golfers who have the skill level to execute difficult shots, which makes it worth them taking certain risks on the course.
If you are serious about achieving this goal you need to check your ego at the door, and make a commitment to the score, and not how your round looks. This means you don’t have to show your playing partners huge drives, pin-seeking approach shots, and magical saves from the worst parts of the golf course.
When you are tallying your score at the end of the round no one is going to remember if you took driver off the tee on the 6th hole. They will remember the triple bogey you made, and how you lost your mind after you hit the ball into the trees!
If you’re committed to the score, then you have to be committed to the style of play it requires to get there. Breaking 90 is not about birdies and pars. It’s actually more about limiting double bogeys, and that is the hardest thing for most golfers to understand.
The Double Bogey & Course Management
The quickest way to derail your chances of breaking 90 is by making a double bogey, or worse, on a hole.
There are three things to focus on for preventing double bogeys:
- Tee Shots
- Recovery Shots
- Limiting Three Putts
Keep the ball in play.
That should be the only focus when you step up to the tee. I wrote an article on how to play smarter tee shots rather than taking driver out on every hole. Your tee shots set the table for how your hole is going to play out. In order to make a par or bogey you have to keep the ball away from trouble.
Making smarter decisions on what club you are going to use, and selecting your target is the first step to preventing the double bogey. It’s not terribly complicated, but it requires a lot of discipline.
Hint: Stop using your driver so much
This is the #1 mistake of all golfers —> Going for broke when you’re in trouble.
Hitting a terrible shot changes our mental state immediately. We might start sweating a little bit, our minds start to speed up, and we start to lose all rational thoughts. This is called playing on tilt (you might recognize that term from poker).
When you’re in this altered state of reality, your decision making is affected. You walk up to your ball, and you're still angry with yourself, and you will tend to make bad decisions. This is the exact moment where you might ruin your chances of breaking 90.
Going for a low-percentage shot to give yourself a chance at par often results in an even larger mistake, which you will regret even more. Check out my article on getting out of jail to find out more about this round-killing phenomenon, and how to prevent it from happening.
This is another area of the game where golfers are missing the boat. If you asked most players, they would say that they need to be making more putts from the 8-15 foot range in order to break 90.
This is completely backwards. Breaking 90 is not about making more one putts, it’s actually more about limiting your three putts. In my article on putting I discuss how golfers are shocked when they find out how low their chances of making putts from more than 5 feet are. PGA Tour players are actually not as good as you think from these distances.
There’s a couple of reasons you should be interested in this information. The first is that you should not be expecting to make most of your putts over five feet, and not to get discouraged when you miss from these distances.
The second reason this is important is because we want to make sure we are getting the ball as close as possible to the hole with our first putt, to increase our chances of making the next one, and preventing the dreaded three putt.
Bonus Content:Be sure to check out my complete guide to putting.
You should be more concerned with speed on your putts, and leaving yourself inside three feet rather than going for the aggressive stroke to make the one putt. Three putts that result in double bogeys are absolute round killers, and can be one of the biggest reasons you end up shooting over a 90.
More than 40% of your strokes in a round can come on the putting green. Fixing this piece of the puzzle can sometimes be the most important part in determining whether or not you will reach your goal.
Nothing I have discussed at this point relates to swing advice, or figuring out how to hit the ball farther. That’s because most of you have the ability to break 90 already with your current swing. You just don’t realize it.
What I’m talking about is course management. This is the most overlooked part of shooting lower scores, and I encourage you to check out my new book, which will teach you how to have a real strategy on the course, and many of the other skills you will need to break 90.
Practicing…the right way
A large part of breaking 90 is going to come from your decision making on the course. However, you are still going to need the skills to pull off the shots necessary to put yourself in a position to reach your goal.
You can’t become a better golfer unless you invest time practicing. This is how you build the confidence necessary to execute shots on the course. Spending time on the range isn’t enough though. If you are just mindlessly hitting balls, that isn’t going to do much for your scores. You have to have a plan, and practice scoring shots.
If you are like most golfers you love swinging your driver, and seeing how far you can hit the ball. Sadly, this is the exact opposite of what you should be doing if you want to break 90. It’s the shortest clubs in your bags that are going to get you to the promised land.
What occurs inside 100 yards is the most important part of breaking 90. If you spend your time practicing these shots, your scores will drop like a stone. It’s a guarantee.
Not all golfers have the ability to master the long game, but every golfer has the ability to have a great short game. But you have to put the work in.
We have put together an extensive library of videos, practice games, interviews, and eBooks that will help you become more efficient in your practice sessions. To find out more visit this page.
The greatest part about having a stellar short game is that it is like a shield that will protect you on your quest to breaking 90. If you miss a green, it’s really not a big deal because you know you have the ability to get up and down for par, or make bogey at worst. Low-handicap golfers have known for a long time where their bread is buttered, and it’s with their wedges and putter.
The Mental Game
Golf is a disproportionately mental game. What’s going on in your mind is often just as important as the quality of your shot making. How many times have you had a great round going, and all of a sudden as you get closer to the finish line you start making mistakes?
It’s because we often gravitate towards shooting the scores we are most comfortable with.
Golfers at all levels struggle with having major breakthroughs because of this. We’re on target to break 100, 90, or even 80 and we completely blow it on the final 3 holes (read about how I had my biggest breakthrough here).
So how do we get past these jitters and demons telling us what we can’t do? There’s a few things that can help:
- A pre-shot routine: Having a familiar process before each shot is a way to calm yourself down when your nerves are starting to fair up.
- Stay positive, and never give up on the round: What happens on the first 6 holes will be a distant memory by the 13th hole. If you can stay in the moment, and focus on saving shots when things aren’t going well, your future self will thank you.
- Relaxing your body: Our minds have the power to do some incredible things to our bodies. Tension in your hands and the rest of your body is one of the main reasons why you can’t hit great shots under pressure. It all starts with realizing when you are most tense during a round, and trying your best to calm yourself down.
- Stop score chasing: This might seem a bit counterintuitive, but focusing on a number the whole round will actually prevent you from shooting it. Great golf happens one shot at a time.
Putting It All Together, and Breaking 90
Breaking 90 requires the right combination of decision making, mental fortitude, and shot execution. If you want to be shooting in the eighties consistently you need to address each of these parts of the game.
If you can keep your focus on the task at hand, which is to make pars and bogeys (birdies can happen from time to time!), and limit those disastrous blowup holes, you will put yourself in a position to reach your goals. There will definitely be some setbacks, but remember this: You have to keep putting yourself in the position to reach your goal until you are comfortable breaking through.
We can help you get there with all of the information available to our Insider members. To find out more visit this page.