Breaking 80 is a target many golfers strive for, but few manage to achieve on a regular basis. In this article we’ll cover my top tips for how to break 80 and how to push forward to become a single-figure golfer. If you regularly shoot a great front 9, then make a Dog’s dinner of the back 9 then this guide should be of use.
Already breaking 80? Check out our guide on how to become a scratch golfer.
The following sections cover the ideal strategy to break 80 before we move on to some ways to refine your practice and develop your technique to start shooting in the 70s.
Simplifying the problem
There are a few ways you can think about shooting in the 70’s – 11 pars and 7 bogeys will do it, 6 birdies and 6 double bogeys will also result in a score of 78. However, I find the best mindset is to become a par machine – your aim is to stack up as many pars as you can and see if you can sneak the odd birdie.
Admittedly, if you are successful in this quest you’ll likely shoot 70 rather than 79 but aiming for a slightly lower score than required tends to create improved results, rather than having a ‘do your best attitude‘.
Before we move on, here is an interview with a good friend, and great coach, Ian Taylor on how to think to start breaking 80 more regularly.
Game plan to break 80
With this in mind, your aim is to see how much regulation golf you can play. Hitting fairways and getting on, or close to, greens is the name of the game. For this approach to work break down each hole and work backwards.
Your aim is to leave yourself 150 yards or less into every green. That means for a 370-yard hole you need to hit your tee shot 220 yards. For a 500-yard par five your first two shots need to travel 350 yards, or 175 yards each. This is very different to how most 15-handicappers think standing on a 500-yard hole, but this is the process of breaking 80 when you break down holes backwards. Find a way to get yourself to 150 yards or less for your approach shot.
Click on this link for a deep dive into course management and breaking down golf holes.
The one time to change this overarching strategy of regulation golf and leaving yourself 150 yards or less is when you encounter a really challenging hole – keep reading below.
Unique problem-solving to break 80
Most golfers have that ‘bogey hole’ they just can’t stand. A 460-yard par four is not hittable in two for most mere mortals. On these holes, hitting a drive, followed by two 7-irons is a good plan, and avoids the mid-round meltdown that many golfers experience.
In the same vein, feel free to explore different ways to play golf holes that you struggle on. You may feel stupid standing on the tee with an 8-iron as all your playing partners are hitting driver, but part of becoming a single-figure golfer is developing your own way to solve problems on the golf course.
Taking your medicine
All golfers face that point in the round where they find their golf ball half under a tree, and their inner Tiger Woods pictures a hooking 7-iron bounding onto the front edge of the green. In these situations please take a deep breath and look over to the fairway. Find a safe place to chip your golf ball back into play and really focus on hitting that simple recovery shot as best you possibly can. Yes, it may be a simple 30-yard chip, but so many golfers execute these shots poorly and don’t get back onto the fairway.
Remember, you can shoot in the 70s with a double bogey, just please don’t turn that 6 into a 10. Once back in play, it is time to get back to your strategy, you are one shot behind your plan, but see if you can hit the green from 150 yards and possibly roll in the putt.
Middle of the green and pin-high
When playing into greens think of two things:
- Where is the largest part of the green (generally the middle).
- Can I get my ball pin high.
Most tour players focus on this strategy, yet players shooting in the 80’s love pin seeking with a 6-iron in hand. Just consider this – if someone placed you 20-feet from the hole with two putts for par could you two-putt? Then consider if someone offered you a par on the tee would you have taken that score?
If the answer is yes to both of these questions then aim for the middle of the green. This gives you the widest margin of error for shots that finish left or right but also offers the deepest part of the green. Meaning if you under-club or miss-hit your shot your ball will likely still find the putting surface.
Practice to break 80
Now you have a game plan to break 80 let’s look at how to practice. Your ideal practice routine to break 80 will vary depending on your unique attributes, but I find the following thought experiment handy. Write down your handicap for the following three areas of your game:
- Outside 150 yards
- 150 – 50 yards
- Inside 50 yards
Once you’ve written your handicap for each area consider what percentage of your practice time is dedicated to each. The classic response to this task is shown below:
It isn’t by chance that there is an inverse relationship between practice time and ability. As your current ability is a product of your previous practice time, consequently most golfers attribute too little practice time to their weaknesses.
Also, no one likes spending time practicing something they are bad at.
If you’re wondering what effective practice looks like then check out the article below for a step-by-step guide. It goes without saying that you need to re-adjust your practice so that the areas that need improving take priority in your practice routine.
What shots should I focus on in my practice to break 80?
What shots you need to develop will be unique based on your current ability as a golfer and the golf course you play. However, it won’t hurt to become a great putter and with the approach strategy we discussed above (aim for the middle of the green) you should leave yourself a few 15 – 20 yard chips when your iron shots are just short or long of the green.
Try playing Par 18 featured in the video below for a great taste of realistic chipping and putting practice. This type of practice will quickly help you turn those bogeys into pars. Also, you can check out the following link to find some great putting drills.
Finally, try to develop a robust shot for getting the ball in play off the tee. I don’t care how ugly the swing looks or feels, just find a reliable way to get the ball on or just off the fairway when you are having your off-days.
My personal issue when breaking 80 was a destructive hook with my driver (well…every club). When playing off a 12 handicap I found a way to hit an ugly punch shot with a 4-iron that landed around 170 yards and ran another 40 yards. I played this shot off every tee for a 36 hole competition and shot 1 over, 3 over, winning the event and being cut to single figures.
The 36th hole was the first time I pulled out driver because I felt it should – I lost my golf ball and made a double bogey. The lesson – find something that works and stick to it. Golf is about getting the ball in the hole, not about looking like ‘a proper player’.
Do I need to change my golf swing to break 80?
Great golf coaching is about helping a player build a great golf swing that works for them. There is no such thing as the perfect golf swing, however, having a sound golf stance really improves a player’s chance of striking the ball well and more consistently. Also, your golf grip is the biggest determinant of your clubface angle at impact and your resulting accuracy. Players who have days where they lose shots 40 yards left or right rarely have good fundamentals in place.
I very much doubt you will need a swing re-vamp, but if you can find a great local PGA pro they should be able to guide you to becoming a more consistent player. You can coach yourself, but I still feel an extra pair of eyes is handy.
When looking for a coach try to find someone that makes the game seem simpler, not more complicated. A good pro should be able to explain how a swing change will help your performance, explain what bad shots you may hit during practice and give you some useful ways to work on your swing mechanics.
How to break 80 on the golf course
I’m smiling as a write this because I know this will ring true for many of you. What do you do when you’re 3 over par through 9-holes and alarm bells start going off?
Well, it will happen, but just because it’s happening doesn’t mean you’re destined for a 10-over par back 9 – check out this golf psychology guide for more details on arousal and anxiety. The key lesson is to stick to your process of hitting fairways, greens and seeing how many pars you can make.
Even when big events view playing great golf as a learning experience – you’ll do your best and today may or may not be the day you break 80. However, you’ll learn from this experience and be a better golfer next time you head out.
Most of all, try to enjoy it.
Breaking 80 isn’t rocket science, it requires a sound plan and a little refined practice. Your next steps to break 80:
Look at each of the golf holes at your home course and work out how you can get to 150-yards or less for your approach shot. Label the tough holes and come up with a plan to navigate the hole with a bogey at worst.
Next, write down your current ability for the three areas of your game discussed above and consider how much time you spend practicing each. This will help you build an effective practice plan.
Finally, enjoy the times on the course you get close to your goals, yes you may not break 80 straight away but each attempt moulds you into a better golfer. Keep putting yourself in position and it will happen.
I hope you’ve found this useful, please share with fellow golfers or around the web – it really helps me grow the site. If you’d like help structuring your practice check out the Golf Insider Performance Diary.
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Happy golfing – Will @ Golf Insider UK.
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