Updated: December 2017

Breaking 90 in Golf:

I've have been playing golf on a regular basis now for about 5 years. I have broken 80 just once (birdied the last hole to do it) but I consistently can break 90. I have read magazine articles, books, and listened to friends that are better than me. I also have watched the pros play in person and on TV to realize how they maintain their golf games from an emotion standpoint. Course management will be a key to breaking 90 for the first time. When I was struggling to get in the 90's I used to have dreams that my one round in the 80's would include incredible chip-ins and long putts to secure the sub-90 score. In reality, that is the farthest from the truth when you do break 90. With 18 holes on the course (par 72), you need to average a 5 on 17 of those holes and get a 4 on one other to get the magical 89 score. Golf is a game of technique, patience, and strategy. The biggest and longest hitters don't always beat up on guys who hit shorter but straighter. Many of your strokes will occur right on the putting green where strength has no bearing on the results. Touch and feel are what save you strokes around and on the greens.

. If you are shooting in the mid to high 90's most of the time, you are probably losing shots on the greens as well as in the fairways or off the tee box. If you can learn to keep the ball in play off the tee box and get a 200+ yard drive, there is no reason why you can't be breaking 90 every once in a while. All you really need is to have one consistently club you can turn to and try to give yourself that yardage as much as possible. Say you are playing a 400 yard Par 4 hole - hit your drive 200 yards (that is not that far), then hit a 9-iron for your layup and another 9-iron (100 yards) into the hole. Whatever your best club is, give yourself a chance to play that club as often as possible. Most players waste strokes by trying to hit 3 wood from 225 into the hole and shanking it into the water or woods. Tone down your game a bit and become a "better thinker" on the course. If you have a strong wedge or sand game, then perhaps hitting for the green from 200 yards out is not such a bad idea as worse case scenario you end in a bunker or in the rough around the green. Chip up and 2 putt for your bogey. Again, bogey golf is not that hard to play if you find a way to manage your golf game around the course. Don't try to be a superhero and smash all your drives 250+ or make the incredible shot over water. Keep in mind that courses have been designed to suck you into their trouble spots. I play with several guys who can't break 90 very often and they usually lose their strokes with bad fairway play. Around the greens they are fairly solid, but they are not long hitters and their approach shots get them into trouble. If they layed up more often on long Par 4's, I guarantee their scores would be in the high 80's more often than not. I don't know if it's the testerone levels of men or the competitive nature that hides within us all, but breaking 90 is usually not something related to strength, it has to do with emotional and mental stability. Work on getting a consistent swing out at the golf range and then take a better mental approach when on the course. A few rounds of "thinking" better will surely put you in position to score below 90.

Course Management:

Many people take golf lessons to work on their swings or become better putters. That is certainly a part of the game, but what most people never consider is how they decide what club to hit and when to go for the green versus layup. Course management is a huge part of scoring well on any golf course. There are bunkers, water hazards, out of bounds, and trees waiting on almost every hole. Being able to find your way around a course and stay out of trouble is not always luck, but course strategy and patience. Sometimes the golf course will dictate what you can do and you need to live with it. Don't get frustrated by having to layup when water is in play. Sometimes you need some course knowledge in order to be ableto manage the situation. Play a course a few times to get an idea where bunkers are, how deep the greens are, how fast the putts will go, which holes play tougher than they look. Essentially, you want to know where to "miss" on some holes so you don't get into trouble and make double or triple bogey. I recommend that all players take at least 1 lesson with a teaching pro on course management and hopefully play a few holes with the instructor to give him some insight into how you think around the course. With the propery instruction, you could expect to shave off 5 strokes per round due to course management decisions.


Perhaps the most underrated part of the golf game. Putting seems easy enough, we all have played miniature golf a few times in our lives to know that putting isn't that difficult. Part of the problem is that most people don't understand how many strokes are actually used on putting in a round of golf versus anything else. Say you 2 putt every green (a few 3 putts and 1 putts to counteract each other) - that is 36 strokes just on putting. If you are scoring in the low 90's, that works out to almost 40% of your strokes going to putts. You only drive the ball 14 times a round (the other 4 holes are Par 3's which require an iron) so driving is important but not necessarily where you will waste the most strokes. I try to do putting drills on the greens before each round. Higher handicappers will usually chip onto the green versus hit the greens in regulation (2 shots on Par 4's) which means that they should be putting shorter distances after their chip shots are hit onto the green. Therefore, the average length putt that a 20 handicapper has is about 25 feet or shorter for his/her first putt. Hit putts from 20-25 feet on the practice greens before your game since that is the most likely distance you will be hitting from on the real course. Get a feel for that distance to assure you are only 2 putting. Unfortunately in golf, a 2 inch putt counts the same on your scorecard as a 250 yard drive. No sense in wasting such small strokes if you can find a way to rid your game of putting woes. When it comes to putting, you need to understand that most greens are completely flat and some are severly sloped with undulations. The best putters can "read" greens well and lag putt to a short range for a "gimme" on their 2nd putt. Putting is more about skill and touch than shear power and strength like driving the ball. That's partially why golf is such a great game - a 20 year power hitter can still lose to a consistent 80 year old that doesn't play beyond himself. Work on your putting more than any other part of your game! I do advise you to take a putting lesson to get some basics on speed, distance, and green reading.

Avoiding Hazards and Sand:

For some reason if there is water or trees off the tee, many golfers who shoot in the 90's or above seem to find it. Mentally, they are not prepared to get beyond those hazards. They tell their brains to avoid the hazard, but unfortunately that is their last thought before hitting and their brains take it as "AIM" that way. You need to find some positive thinking in your head when you are playing golf. Learn to be confident that your shot will clear the water or stay away from the trees. Practice at the driving range imagining water off the tee and having to relax and hit your normal ball over it. Visualize the ball going high above the hazard and landing safely. Your brain will follow if you see it with your eye first. Trust your shot and your body will produce. Maybe not at first, but bringing positive thoughts to your mind before hitting a golf ball can do wonders. I used to think too much about clearing lakes or streams off the tee and more often than not wound up in them. Now I only concentrate on my tee shot, knowing that if I hit it like normal, it will go 240+ and carry whatever is in the way. I have left the negative thought patterns behind and now only concentrate on what I can control. As for sand bunkers, I used to think my ball had a magnate on it. Everytime I would hit an approach shot into a green the ball would somehow get sucked into the waiting bunkers. One thing I quickly realized is that most holes have bunkers either in front of the greens or on the sides but still below the hole. Why is this so important? Something like 80% of golfers that shoot in the 90's (or higher) always underclub on their approach shots meaning they are rarely hitting to the hole or beyond. More importantly, this means their balls will end up short of the green and in a bunker. If you are trying to avoid sand bunkers around the green, take an extra club and make sure you get to the hole. Sand play is critical to keeping your score in the respectable zone. I still have trouble getting out of some bunkers, but I rarely notice bunkers on the course anymore when hitting because I choose not to focus on those aspects. I sometimes focus on the best place to miss versus going right at the flag. If one side of the green is loaded with bunkers, I'll focus on the other side and try to hit my ball away from the trouble. There's no doubt that bunkers can add strokes to your game, so find a way to avoid them by playing smart and be patient. Often laying up on a hole is not a bad idea if there are lots of bunkers surrounding it. Layup to 100 yards so you can hit a 9 iron into the green safely and high enough to avoid trouble. I bought a video (by David Leadbetter) which focuses on sand shots and bunker play. The video is really good at giving you pointers on how to stand, how open the club face should be, and where to aim your body. Get a lesson on sand play at least once to improve your play.