How To Break 80 in Golf (Practical Guide)


One of the great pinnacles in golf scoring is the first round that a golfer shoots in the 70s. There is something special about breaking 80 in golf that puts the golfer in elite company.  Only about 2 percent of golfers ever break 80 in golf, it is generally considered reaching an elite level in golf.

According to Forbes Magazine, 24 million Americans play an average of 465 million rounds of golf annually.  To think that only 2 percent of golfers break 80 is something special. I’m sure you would like to join the 2 percent and we are here to help.

I started playing golf when I was 10 and by age 15 broke 80 for the first time and then broke 70 at around 17.  It was an ongoing journey to keep reaching each milestone. I then spent many years coaching high golfers and helping others reach the milestone of breaking 80 and it is always special.  I share the mindset, strategies and tips that I have found work the best in this practice guide on how to break 80 in golf.
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We will walk you through the categories listed below and provide tips throughout the guide.  One of the greatest things about game improvement nowadays is the access to the world’s greatest golf instructors.  While, we may not have direct access to these instructors on a consistent basis, adopting a swing philosophy can go a long way in helping our ball striking, strategy, short game and putting.  Back in the 1990s the only thing one could count on was golf digest or the golf channel.

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These three have had some great instructors in their careers. You now have online access to many of the top instructors in the world.

As I reflect back, the golf teaching world has improved drastically. We provide the best free instructional strategies for many of the categories below.

  1. The Score Breakdown and Mindset
    1. Set the New Par
    2. Course Management
    3. Greens in Regulation
  2. Tee Shot
  3. Approach Shot
  4. Chipping
  5. Putting
  6. Mental side
  7. Online Golf Instructors
  8. Practice
  9. Have fun!

The Score Breakdown and Mindset

The thought of breaking 80 might seem overwhelming at first, especially if you are new to the game of golf or have struggled for many years.  I would encourage you to continue to work hard and consider the mindset that we provide below. Sometimes breaking it down into smaller parts and changing the overall mindset can free you up physically to hit the shots that breaking 80 in golf requires.  Start by setting a more short term goal of playing one of nines in 40 or less.

Set the “New Par”

It may sound cliche, but it truly is necessary to take each shot and each hole one at a time.  You must set your overall course strategy and then try to execute throughout the journey of 18 holes.  Breaking it down hole by hole and shot by shot will help you be more successful. Also, the good feeling of hitting minor goals throughout ultimately leading to your goal of breaking 80 in golf will serve as a positive and help you remain optimistic throughout the round of golf.

The typical par at the majority of courses is right around 72.  Here is the usual breakdown:

  • 4 Par 5’s
  • 4 Par 3’s
  • 12 Par 4’s

Total par of 72 on average.

Let’s start with the right mindset.  Instead of thinking of and trying to force yourself to make birdies, I would suggest looking at the scorecard and identifying the 7 most difficult holes for that day.  

For those 7 holes, we are going to have you change the par to one more shot.  This helps change your mindset and strategy for the most 7 difficult holes.

  • If you shot par on your “new par” for the 18 holes you would be at 7 over par, which would bring your total score to 79.  The good thing is that we know you might make an actual par every now and then on the 7 of the most difficult holes on the course.
  • Or you might make an actual birdie on one of the other 11 holes.  These would be bonus or buffer strokes that you can then use for the occasional double bogey due to a 3 putt or a penalty stroke.

Tip: The father of Tiger Woods, Earl Woods, would use this same strategy with a young Tiger Woods.  In fact many pros still use it today, but in a reverse manner. They look at the par 5’s as par 4’s and believe that they can start their round with 4 automatic birdies if they just play average.

I believe by using this approach, it allows for small victories and to help you feel that you are accomplishing what you need to throughout the day.  Know that each round of golf is unique and you will experience highs and lows and it will ultimately come down to how you respond to this roller coaster known as a round of golf.
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Now that we have the mindset laid out and a plan that is feasible, let’s talk about how this mindset can have a positive impact on your course management.

Course Management

Let’s say the first hole is a 430 yard par 4 with water in front of the green.  This would be a rather difficult starting hole for any level golfer. If you are feeling the pressure to make a 4 on this hole, the wheels can come off in your round very quickly.  However, instead, what if this was one of your most difficult 7 holes and your “par” was set at 5.

Option 1 – Off the tee, we could go with a 3 wood and try to get it out there 200 to 220 yards.  From there we could hit a 130 yard shot, leaving you with a very manageable 80-100 shot over the water.  Two putt for our “par” and move onto the next hole. We now have a positive feeling about the round of golf.

Option 2 – The opposite would be to take a driver and try to bust it down the fairway at 250 yards.  Even if you hit a great drive, we are still left with 180 yards over water. So this is now your first long iron of the day, over water.  What are the chances of hitting it over the water and making a par 4?

I would venture to guess that the odds are not high. Let’s play this out – you try to hit a 5 iron over the water and don’t quite catch it flush, you end up in the water.  You then take your penalty shot, hit your wedge onto the green and two putt for your 6. You are frustrated and have already lost 2 of your 7 shots that you can afford over par and still have 17 holes left.

Tip: The psychological advantage of feeling that you made a “par” will help you continue to manage your game and shots throughout the course.  This will keep your self talk positive and help you be free to make a quality swing.

Let’s say the 2nd hole is a 310 yard par 4.  Now is the time to make your traditional par and keep the round going.  

Option 1 – You take driver and leave yourself with a 50-60 yard shot onto the green and bring birdie into play.

Option 2 – You lay up with your 200 yard club and hit your approach shot from 110 yards.  You have a good chance of having a 20 foot birdie putt or less

Not much trouble in the approach to this green. Might be worth hitting taking option 1 from above.

Both strategies allow you to play the course and leave the 2nd hole feeling confident.  Remember, we want positive vibes throughout the round and to control our self talk that we are going to reach our goal each hole and for the entire round.  I am sure we are all guilty of trying to come out of the gate fast only to have our round quickly derail within the first 2-3 holes. Play it smart and keep your mindset right and you will have a chance on the back 9.

“Hit the shot you know you can hit, not the one you think you should.”


Dr. Bob Rotella

Tip: When you stay within yourself and the abilities that you have, you will be able to execute at a higher level.  If you are trying to hit shots outside of your comfort zone, you will struggle that day and quickly become frustrated from the lack of success.

Your overall self talk and course management will impact your overall score probably more so than how you are swinging that day.  One philosophical approach that I love to play by is that you can chip and putt pretty well every time you play golf. You never know what the driver or overall ball striking are going to be like, but if you practice enough and develop the short game you have a chance to play some pretty solid golf and break 80.  Plus – you frustrate those you are playing with when you are getting “up and down” from all over the course.

Greens in Regulation – The Right Formula

As you get closer to breaking 80, hopefully your ball striking has you at a level where you are hitting 9 greens a round in regulation.  This is only at a 50% clip. If you take the 4 par 5’s, and then find 5 other holes that you hit in regulation you should be able to do this on a normal day.  This leaves 9 greens that you haven’t hit.

You only have to get “up and down” 2 out of 9 times.  If you start to complete this at a 40-50% rate you give yourself great flexibility in opening up buffer strokes or rounds where your ball striking is struggling.  There are many ways to attack a course and break a score down based on your areas of strength and weakness. I know golfers that I play with that need to hit 14-15 greens a round because their short game actually adds unnecessary strokes to their score.  In order to consistently break 80, your short game and chipping will become vital to your consistency in scoring.

Tee Shot and Mindset

Here is where you need to know your strengths.  Are you a power hitter that is going to over power a course and occasionally spray the ball offline, or are you the person that hits fairway after fairway, but maybe lacks some distance?  Either way, you should reverse engineer the hole and play to your strengths. Keep in mind that you only have to hit 9 greens in regulation and you set yourself up for success and to reach your goal of breaking 80.  Remember, we want positive experiences and situations throughout the round to help keep our mind right and perform at our peak level. Excellent Read by Dr. Rotella, “Golf Is Not A Game of Perfect” (Check Current Price on Amazon).

“Sometimes the biggest problem is in your head. You’ve got to believe.”

Jack Nicklaus

Tip: Play your shot pattern for that day.  If you are hitting a slight fade, go with it.  Unless you are completely comfortable working the ball both ways, go with what you have for that day.  The after driving range session is where you can work on “fixing” your swing.

Here is an excellent video by Shawn Clement on how to work the ball with your driver.  I believe in order for a golfer to reach their peak performance, that working the ball both ways or at least understanding why certain shots are flying certain ways is important.

Tip: Have extra time at the range prior to your round of golf?  Take yourself through the shots you will hit on the course that day.  Go through the entire course starting with the first hole and set parameters on the driving range and practice each shot.  Need to hit a draw on the first hole, then practice it on the range. Need to hit a 130 yard approach shot on number 1? Practice that shot as well and then progress through your entire round of golf.  Using this visualization and finding comfort with the shots you will hit that day will help you feel more comfortable and confident for your upcoming round of golf.

Approach Shot and Mindset

When you are trying to break 80, there is no need to fly straight at the pins.  We need you to aim for the big part of the green and play your shot pattern to benefit you.  If you have become a decent lag putter, you should be able to two putt and walk away with your par pretty easily.  

Remember, we are taking one shot at a time and feeding off of the success we are having.  Start the day with the right mindset and you more than likely are not going to hit all 18 greens and have 10 foot birdie putts all day.

“Golf is about how well you accept, respond to, and score with your misses much more so than it is a game of your perfect shots.”

Dr Bob Rotella

Stay away from the trouble and pick your spots to be aggressive.  Consider two different scenarios:

Scenario 1 – You have 200 yards to a green with a wide open front with a fairly flat green.  I would recommend trying to hit the green and if you don’t rely on your solid chipping to possibly still save a par.

Scenario 2 – You have 200 yards to a green with a big pot bunker in the front that might lead to a double bogey.  This is a hole that you have marked as one of the 7 most difficult holes on the course. Go ahead and hit the 160-170 yard shot and then hit the 30 yard shot onto the green, convert your two putt and leave that hole feeling positive and in control of your game.

“I’m about five inches from being an outstanding golfer. That’s the distance my left ear is from my right.”

Ben Crenshaw

Want to hit your irons consistently from round to round and improve your accuracy?  Here is a video to help you do that.

Tip: Control your expectations on your approach shots.  Did you know the current leader on the PGA tour from 125-150 is 17’ 1”’ from the hole.  Too many amateurs expect to stick shots within 5 feet on a consistent basis. Aim for the big portion of the green and keeps your expectations in check.

Chipping

The ultimate eraser for your game.  Have a bad ball striking round going on?  No worries if you can hit a couple of quality chip shots to keep you going.  Hit your driver into the woods and can’t quite get to the green? No problem if you have a strong short game.  

At the end of the day, the true secret in consistently breaking 80 is going to be your ability to chip and putt the ball.  Now of course you have to be able to hit the ball at least 200 yards with your driver and strike your irons crisp, but I could hit only 5 greens in regulation and stand a chance of breaking 80.  

I would have to get “up and down” for par 6 out of 13 times. Get your game to this level and you will shoot in the 70s pretty consistently. The great part about building confidence in chipping is that you do not need a lot of money or space to improve.  

It’s about finding the confidence in the technique and get the feel to be great at chipping.  It doesn’t take being 6 foot 3 or swinging 115 miles per hour with the driver, you just need the time and dedication to get better at chipping.

Tip: You can take the route of getting really good with one club like a 60 degree wedge or get your swing more basic and use different clubs.  I prefer to use the 60 for the majority of my shots and then use an 8 or 9 iron to hit the occasional bump and run depending on the lie and how close I am to the green.

I believe that Monte Scheinblum has a great approach to those that may have a case of the yips or are struggling overall with being consistent with pitch and chip shots.

Putting

Putting is another area of the game that doesn’t take a great deal of quality genetic makeup, youthful flexibility or a high level of instruction.  If you have a ball, a putter and a carpeted area in your house, you can learn to roll the ball on your intended line on a consistent basis. There are two major keys to putting.  Can you start the ball where you want to and can you hit it the right speed? If you can do these two things, you will become a solid putter and get better at reading greens.

I would recommend practicing your 3-5 footers.  Did you know that the make rate on the PGA tour from 5 feet is only 77%.  Many golfers take this distance for granted, but if you can make putts from 5-7 feet you will improve your score and take pressure off of your chipping.

Tip: When on the green you have the opportunity to mark your ball for every putt.  Make sure you mark it, clean it and then most importantly line up the line on the ball in the direction you want to start the putt.  It is easier to aim from behind the ball then it is from the side. Look to view the putt from both behind the ball and behind the hole, select a line, line up the line on the ball and then hit the putt.  Make sure you establish a routine for putting and all shots.

Mental Side

Golf truly is a test of your physical skills set and your mental mindset over the course of 4-5 hours.  There is a great deal of time between shots when you have time to think and truly get out of your way of performing at your peak level.  

Bobby Jones said it pretty well,

“He [the golfer] must have the courage to keep trying in the face of ill luck or disappointment, and timidity to appreciate and appraise the dangers of each stroke, and to curb the desire to take chances beyond reasonable hope of success.”

In golf there is the constant battle and focus required to every shot.  Lose concentration for one of those shots and you could have difficulty reaching your goal.  At the same time, embrace this challenge and enjoy it. If you dread this challenge, you will suffer and the game will not be fun.  Look at every opportunity as a chance to test your physical and mental toughness and the ability to perform under pressure.

Tip: One way to build up your mental side of the game and to learn how to make a lot of pars is to play the course from really short tees.  If you normally play from 6200 yards, play one day from 5600 yards and see if your short game and mental side/course management is good enough to break 80. From here you can build confidence and see what breaking 80 feels like down that final stretch.

Self Talk

I am a big believer in the power of self talk.  This relates to both life and on the golf course.  The story you tell yourself in life and on the course will impact how you think and ultimately how you feel.  When you are telling yourself negative things, you will more than likely end up feeling negative. Excellent Read by Dr. Rotella, “Golf Is Not A Game of Perfect” (Check Current Price on Amazon).

The human mind is conditioned and programmed to look out for negative possibilities, as it was a survival trait that we needed back when tigers, lions and bears were roaming the lands.  Truly makes that water hazard not seem so bad – right? Remember you are out there to have fun, take it all in and enjoy each challenge. Consider the following two options in self talk:

You have a 150 yard par shot shot with water left.

Scenario 1 –  Prior to the shot you tell yourself, “I suck at these 150 yard shots, especially with water to the left.  I sure hope I don’t hit it in the water. Ok, here goes nothing”

Or, you can go in the opposite direction.

Scenario 2 – Prior to the shot you tell yourself, “I can hit this shot, I am going got focus on my target, go through my routine.  I love the challenge this hole brings, what an amazing golf hole. I am so lucky to be out here playing today.”

Know where your miss and your average carry distance. Play to the big part of the green and give yourself confidence.

Which scenario do you think you will be most successful with?  It is pretty obvious when we aren’t in the middle of a round to see what self talk can do to us.  

Tip: Count how many times during the course of a round you find yourself in negative self talk and track it over the course of 5-10 rounds.  Work to improve by reducing the number of times you find yourself in this situation. Another great thing to track is how many times you complain about the course, the speed of the greens, the wind and all of things beyond our control.  

You are supposed to enjoy the game. You can’t control those things – embrace the challenge! One putting routine that I have found to work is to read from both sides of the putt (behind the ball and behind the cup) as I am walking back getting ready to hit the ball, I look around, take in the nature and say to myself, “I am so lucky to be golfing today.”  This made sound strange, but that positive mindset goes a long way in freeing up your body to hit a quality shot.

Online Golf Instruction

No matter our ball striking ability or our short game dominance, we all want to get better.  The great part about game improvement now is the access that we all have to some of the best instructors throughout the world.  There are many great resources.

Over the past three years, I have really researched the different approaches and have found 4-5 instructors that I truly think are pretty sensational as online golf instructors.  Below you will find a tip on driving, approach shots, chipping, putting and then focusing on the target. These videos, I believe, are wonderful resources to help you improve your golf swing. Get the mindset portion right from the above info and then look at these strategies or tips to help you improve your overall golf swing as well.

Tip: Play your golf swing, look at these videos and take the parts that are right for you.  Careful not to get too lost in the never ending amount of videos online. Be confident in your swing and know that the ball doesn’t know who is hitting the shot.  It will react to what the club does.

Driver

Love this video.  Shawn Clement has helped me improve my driving.  What once was a weakness is no longer a barrier to playing my best golf.

Approach Shots

Chipping

Putting

Target Based Golf

Practice

The most important portion of this entire guide.  You must practice to get better. This doesn’t mean pounding 120 drivers at your local driving range everyday.  You must practice smart and maximize your time. We all have only so much time in a day and a week to improve and get better.  Here is my recommendation on the breakdown for time spent over the course of a week.

  • 70% on Chipping and Putting
  • 20% on mid irons
  • 10% on driver

The great thing about short game practice is that it doesn’t take any money or high level quality instruction.  You can find your local public course and take 3 balls and go practice your chipping and putting.

Tip: After hiting chips shots and putts for 5-10 minutes, turn the practice into a challenge to apply pressure.  One game is to put 6 balls around the hole from about 3-4 feet. See if you can make all 6. If you miss one, go back and start over.  

Another game is to see how many times out of 10 you can get “up and down” in 2 shots or less. Track this over time to see if you are improving.  Practice from different lies and different distances. If there is someone else around play some short game match play with them. Take turns picking the shot.  This will help you deal with the pressure you will feel as you head to the back nine with your goal of breaking 80 within reach.

Have Fun!

Golf is supposed to be a fun game.  Find a way to make your practice time challenging, yet fun.  Most people enjoy competing with others or having competitions with yourself by tracking your success over time.  Also, make sure you play the right tees. When you are at the driving range, try to hit different shots that allow you to be creative and makes the game fun.  If you are working with your kids and introducing them to the game, see if there is a local Topgolf nearby. This is a great way to introduce your kids to the game of golf.

Summary

Hopefully our guide has provided you the strategies, mindset, and tips to help you reach your goal of breaking 80 in golf.  Practice, enjoy the practice time and go out and compete. The great thing about golf is that you are competing against the course and the elements that day.  Embrace the challenge and find out what you are made of. Golf is great preparation for real life, as the challenges are always there and you can’t always control the outcome.

“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.”

Bobby Jones

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