So you’ve broken through the magical 100 stroke barrier and even the 90s, but now you face your biggest challenge yet as a golfer; breaking the 80s for the very first time.
Is it possible to break 80? Of course, the reality is many club-level golfers genuinely don’t believe they have the potential to start shooting in the 80s consistently. Yet, with some proven practical tips and a lot of hard work, breaking 80 and heading towards a single-digit handicap is more than possible.
The difficulty of breaking 80 is that it requires you to remain consistent over the entire 18 holes. Many amateur golfers light up the front-nine with a blistering score only to crash back down to earth on the back-nine with an array of double and triple bogeys.
In this guide, I will share with you some of the best tips and advice I have gathered over my twenty years of coaching pro athletes. We’ll take a look at:
- KISS (keep it simple stupid)
- Game plan
- Shot selection
- Greens in Regulation
- Mental strategies and
- Swing mechanics, just to name a few
These tips are practical and, most importantly, easy to follow. So, if you’ve been on the cusp of breaking 80 but haven’t quite gotten over the line, keep reading because this comprehensive guide on how to break 80 in golf is for you.
Let’s Keep Things Simple
When it comes to breaking 80 in golf for the first time, there are several ways in which you can go about it.
Your mindset and playing style will be significant factors in your chosen method, as will the course you regularly play, but know this, breaking 80 is possible if you commit to it.
In reality, there are probably 10s of different ways in which you can break 80. For example, you might go out and shoot eleven pars and seven bogeys; that’ll get it done, and even shooting six birdies and mixing in 12 double-bogeys leads to a 78; that’s also good enough to get the job done.
In my experience working with golfers, the best way to go about breaking 80 is to rack up as many pars as you can and limit the big numbers like double and triple bogeys. Understanding that you can have 6 or 7 bogeys and still break 80 helps alleviate any stress you have out on the course; believe me, if you’re on the threshold of breaking 80 for the first time, you’ll be a nervous wreck.
Aiming to shoot par on every hole is a lofty and somewhat formidable goal, but I’ve always found the best way to achieve success in anything is to shoot for the stars; that way, if you do fall short, you’re still likely to exceed your expectations.
“Golf is deceptively simple and endlessly complicated; it satisfies the soul and frustrates the intellect. It is at the same time rewarding and maddening – and it is without a doubt the greatest game mankind has ever invented.” Arnold Palmer
Putting Together A Solid Game Plan
Ok, so now it’s time to start developing a game plan that will have you on your way to breaking 80 and one step closer to that coveted single-digit handicap. Now bear with me because what I’m going to teach you next could come as a shock to you.
Did you know that when it comes to creating a game plan for each round, the pros and their caddies actually break down the hole working backward? This means that instead of planning the hole from the tee box to the green, they actually work from the green, back to the tee box.
- The first thing they look at is pin placement and where the best place to putt from is
- Next, they work out the shot they need to play to land the ball in that position
- From there, they repeat the same process until they get back to the tee box, at which point they’ll know exactly what shape and club they need to hit off the tee. Despite what many club golfers think, pros use several different clubs when teeing off, not just driver.
Another excellent option for golfers on the cusp of breaking 80 is to leave themselves an approach shot of roughly 150-yards. Most golfers of this level are pretty good from this distance, and it will definitely give you the best chance to two-putt and make par; it also gives you the opportunity to make the odd birdie.
For example, if you’re playing a 400-yard par 4, you need to hit a 250-yard drive to leave yourself with a 150-yard approach to the green. How about a 500-yard par 5? In this case, you’ll need to hit a 250-yard drive and 100-yard lay-up; this will leave you a 150-yard approach shot to the green.
The strategy above has been proven time and time again, not just for the pros but the regular mid to low handicapper. Start thinking like a pro and work backward from the green to the tee. You’ll see significant improvements in your score and be closer to consistently breaking 80 and bragging to your friends about your single-figure handicap.
“You don’t have the game you played last year or last week. You only have today’s game. It may be far from your best, but that’s all you’ve got. Harden your heart and make the best of it.” Legendary, Walter Hagen.
Think Outside the Box to Break 80
If you’re like most golfers, then more than likely, you have one or two holes at your home club that, no matter how many times you play them, continue to cause you headaches.
For many mid to low handicappers, long par 4s seem to be the holes that can cause the big numbers like a double and triple bogey. Standing on the tee, players feel the need to bomb a 300-yard drive to have any chance at all of making par; but is this the best strategy? No.
More often than not, you’re much better off taking a mid to long iron off the tee and guaranteeing you play your second shot from the fairway. Unless you’re confident in your driver and the tee shot suits your shape, you’re best bet is hitting two mid to long irons to reach the green rather than risk bombing a tee shot that could easily sail out-of-bounds and have you staring down a triple bogey.
Don’t be influenced by your playing partners. 99% of them will be hitting driver; so let them laugh at you when they see you teeing off with a 5-iron; But guess what? They won’t be laughing when you walk away with par or, at worst, a bogey on the toughest hole on the course.
An integral part of breaking 80 and working towards lowering your handicap is being comfortable and confident in playing the shots and clubs that give you the best chance to score. Forget what club you’re playing partners are hitting; stick to your plan and let them take on the “hero” shots.
Here’s what Jim Furyk had to say about the best strategy for playing arguably the world’s most demanding golf course, Augusta National. “There’s going to be places where you can attack the golf course, and there’s going to be times where you’ve got to kind of bite your lip and play conservative and hit to certain spots on the green, get out of there with a par and move on.”
Learn to cut your Losses
Learning to cut your losses or “take your medicine” is something every golfer needs to face, especially if they aspire to break 80 consistently.
When you’re in trouble, it’s easy to start channeling your inner Phil Mickelson and picture yourself playing a sky-high lob wedge over the trees and bunker, but we all know how that will end, either double or triple bogey. Instead of playing the miracle shot, which can lead to big numbers, play your shot sideways or even backward; it really doesn’t matter; your priority is getting back onto the fairway.
Remember; you don’t know what the future holds; who knows, you might hit a great approach shot and end up making a 15 footer for par; it doesn’t have to be pretty it just has to get the job done; as they say in golf “you only need to write down the score; you don’t need to draw pictures.”
Once on the fairway, you can continue with your original game plan of hitting the green and two-putting to make par; now, although you’ve lost a shot chipping back into the fairway, a bogey is a lot better than a triple or quadruple-bogey, which would’ve seen the end to any chance you had of breaking 80.
“Golf is the closest game to the game we call life. You get bad breaks from good shots; you get good breaks from bad shots, but you have to play the ball where it lies.” The great Bobby Jones
Don’t Chase the Pin
How often have you been “suckered” into going for a pin cut close to a hazard or the edge of the green? More often than not, right? Well, by getting sucked into chasing those pins, you’re chances of breaking 80 take a significant nosedive.
Here are two tips on approaching the green that will keep you out of trouble and give you good looks at birdie instead of bogey.
- Hit to the center of the green regardless of pin placement
- Get your ball pin high
Did you know that when Tiger Woods was growing up, his father, Earl, would walk ahead and take the pin out before Tiger could play his approach shot? Why, you might ask? Earl was teaching Tiger the importance of hitting the center of the green. Not only did this strategy help Tiger hit more greens, but it also helped him think logically and strategically.
Most golfers, even the pros, are more happy than with par. Let’s say you’re playing on the toughest hole on the course, and before teeing off, the good Lord above offered you two putts for par; would you take it? I’m guessing 99% of golfers would. Reminding yourself that par is a good score will keep you on track for breaking 80.
Playing to the center of the green gives you a large margin for error, which is precisely what you’re after when trying to shoot low numbers. Like the tennis player who stays away from the lines, the golfer who plays for the middle of the green will eliminate those catastrophic scores that can send your round crashing into the side of a mountain.
“If you worry about making bogeys, it makes the game that much more difficult. You put more pressure on yourself without even noticing it. It makes a difference to take it easy when things aren’t going right.” 2017 Masters Champion, Sergio Garcia.
Practice with a Purpose to Break 80
Okay, now that you’ve got your game plan to break 80 ready to rock N roll, it’s time to develop a practice plan. Deliberate practice is what separates great golfers from the good, and professionals understand this more than anyone.
The Handbook of Sport Psychology is one of the best books you can find on the topic of deliberate practice. Researcher and author Anders Ericsson defines deliberate practice as “the individualized training activities specially designed by a coach or teacher to improve specific aspects of an individual’s performance through repetition and successive refinement.”
To further help you create your practice plan, let’s delve a little deeper by asking yourself three critical questions pertaining to your game. Now, you’ll need to score each of these three questions, 1 through 10, and it requires brutal self-appraisal; don’t cheat yourself.
- 0 to 50-yards
- 50 to 150-yards and
- 150-yards and beyond
Most golfers will benefit from this simple thought experiment because it clearly shows you the areas of your game that need work and the areas you spend most of your time practicing. If you’re like most golfers, you probably spend the vast majority of your time practicing areas of your game you are confident in; after all, no one wants to practice parts of their game they stink at.
But practicing your strengths is not where you should be dedicating your time; rather, spending time improving your weaknesses is much more advantageous to your overall performance and will give you the best chance to break 80.
Completing this thought experiment will make it evidently clear to you that your areas of strength are directly correlated to how much time you dedicate to them. Take this same philosophy and start concentrating on your weaknesses; it’ll do wonders for your game and your handicap.
“One reason golf is such an exasperating game is that a thing we learned is so easily forgotten, and we find ourselves struggling year after year with faults we had discovered and corrected time and again.” Bobby Jones.
Specific Shots in your Game to Focus On
To break 80, you’re going to need to focus on a few critical areas of your game that most club golfers neglect entirely. Your short game and putting are two such areas when you need to start focusing much of your time during practice.
I recommend spending an equal amount of time on all areas of your game. This means that if you spend 5 hours a week working on your long game, you’ll need to dedicate the same amount of time to chipping and putting. Believe me, by doing this, you will see a remarkable improvement in your ability to score and salvage par which in the past was seemingly impossible.
Try practicing your putting from varying distances, and be sure to keep a notebook nearby so you can jot down things like how many you made and the distance. Play games and challenge your putting by placing yourself under pressure; I like to make 100 three-foot putts in a row before I finish practice for the day.
Improving your chipping and bunker play will also help you get one step closer to breaking the mythical 80. Practice shots from around the greens and up top 50 yards away. For mid to low handicappers, when pitching from 50 yards, aim to land your ball within 10 feet of the hole. For chip shots around the green, you should really be looking at getting the ball within 3 to 5 feet of the pin; this should make up-and-downs for par a hell of a lot easier.
Last but not least is developing a rock-solid tee shot. I don’t care whether it’s a driver or a 5-iron; if you can consistently hit the middle of the fairway with that club, then use it. Forget about the funny looks on the tee box while everyone is standing there with driver, and you’ve got your trusty 5-iron because guess what, you’ll have the last laugh.
“I’ve heard people say my swing’s not perfect, and I know that. But golf’s a natural sport, very sensitive. It’s played a lot by feel. I don’t care if my swing is too flat. If it works, I don’t have to change it.” 36-time PGA Tour winner and 2017 Masters Champion, Sergio Garcia.
The 18th Hole
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, breaking 80 is not rocket science. Now I’m not saying it’s easy, but nothing in life ever working for is. Breaking 80 requires dedication, patience, commitment, and time. But remember this; it can be done; you can break 80.
Start by identifying the holes on your golf course that you can attack and those requiring you to play conservatively. Take a leaf out of Tiger’s notebook and hit your approaches to the middle of the green; don’t get suckered into chasing pins cut near hazards. Practice your putting and chipping, and start working on the areas of your game that need improvement.
Now for those of you who follow me, you know I always end my articles with a piece of positive advice or a quote that can inspire you to reach your full potential and break 80.
Today I’ll leave you with this quote from The Black Knight, South African golfing legend Gary Player, “The more I work and practice, the luckier I seem to get.”