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Thursday, August 16, 2018

Thinking Your Way to Breaking 90

Most of the time I write about improving your mechanics or related subjects. Today I want to talk about strategy, and specifically for those of you who are struggling to break 90. That seems to be a mental barrier for many weekend players but, once you learn how to do it consistently, even breaking 80 doesn't seem that far away.

A couple of years ago I wrote a post called A Different Approach to Breaking 90. It introduced the concept of "level fives" from a book called (appropriately enough) How to Break 90. The idea is simply that if you average five strokes for 18 holes, you shoot 90. And the book included a quote which, while obvious, may never have occurred to you:
Consider, if you will, that on a par-72 course you can bogey 17 of the 18 holes and still break 90.
As I said, obvious but probably something that never occurs to most golfers who are trying to break 90 for the first time.

By all means, go back and read the post I linked to earlier in this one. Today I'd like to put some numbers to this line of thought. Perhaps it will make the strategy that much clearer to you.

Let's forget about your driver for a moment, maybe even your 3-wood. Do you have a club that you can hit 170-180 yards with reasonable consistency? By "reasonable consistency" I mean you can hit it pretty much that same distance time after time, and you have a decent chance to put it in the fairway each time. It might be a 3-hybrid, or maybe a 7-wood. (For some of you big hitters, it might be just an 8-iron or 7-iron. Whatever.) Let's do a little simple math here.:
  • Two 170-yard shots travel 340 yards.
  • Three 170-yard shots travel 510 yards.
  • Two 180-yard shots travel 360 yards.
  • Three 180-yard shots travel 540 yards.
I'm going to use a 7-wood and the 170-yard distance for this example.

I'll be able to reach a 510-yard par-5 with three shots. If the par-5 is shorter than that, it's two 7-woods and a shorter club. If the par-5 is longer, it's three 7-woods and (probably) a chip or pitch. If my short game is just decent, that should give me a good chance at a bogey six at worse.

I'll be able to reach a 340-yard par-4 in two shots. If the par-4 is shorter than that, it's one 7-wood and a shorter club. If the par-4 is longer, it's two 7-woods and a shorter club. On a lot of those longer holes the third shot will only be a chip or pitch. Again, if my short game is any good, I should have a good chance to walk off with a bogey five at worse.

And even on a long par-3, I'm probably just looking at one 7-wood and a chip or pitch, and I walk off with a bogey four at worse.

If we make a couple of putts somewhere along the way, we could break 90 by two or three shots. And not once will we have had to use one of our longer woods -- you know, the clubs we keep hitting into the rough.

Even if you don't use this strategy on every hole, it's a good one to try on holes on which you consistently find yourself making double-bogey or worse.

Remember: Many times, bad scores are not the result of poor play so much as of poor thinking.


  1. One of my favorite books on this subject is The Elements of Scoring by Raymond Floyd. It really helped me.

    1. It's a fave of mine as well, Jerry. Ray Floyd really understood how to make the most of what you have.