Have you ever shot 43 on the front nine and thought, wow I only need 46 on the back side for an 89!
And what happens next is tragic. You shoot 50 for a 93.
The beer doesn't taste the same. You think about leaving your wife, giving up golf, and becoming the next Jack Reacher.
But what if I could show you how to break 90 in golf consistently?
What if there was a way to hack the game of golf and put up scores in the 80's whenever you play?
Because there is, and I'm going to show you actionable steps to take to actually do it. No theory, all action.
I put together my experience over 20 years on the course as someone who once lusted after an 89 but also as someone who's played countless rounds with guys who want to break 90. The result is this comprehensive guide to breaking 90 in golf consistently.
Anyone can break 90 and in this guide, I'll show you:
There's absolutely no need to make any swing changes. If you can shoot in the 90's, you can also break 90 without changing your swing. What I'm going to show you below are basic fundamentals and tricks that you may or may not have come across before. Good luck!
For years I turned my nose up at this idea. Until I tried it for the first time...in 2016! I'm draining way more putts and feel better off the tee that my club face is aiming in the right direction. This alone will shave 2 or 3 shots off your game if you aren't doing it already.
It takes a little while to get used to aligning the line accurately but pays off quickly.
Draw a straight long stripe on your golf ball to help you aim the ball toward the target off the tee and on the green! [check out my step by step guide to marking and putting your golf ball]
When you tee the ball up, align the stripe down the fairway. On your putts, align the stripe to the line of your putt. Then line up your putter's alignment line with the stripe on the ball. Works like a charm! Now all you need to worry about on putts is the distance control.
Yes. The pros use this same technique and it conforms with the rules of golf 100%. Henrik Stenson & Ian Poulter use it mainly for tee shots. Give it a try. Important: don't take too long aligning the ball to the hole on greens. Don't slow down pace of play.
This can be implemented by anyone and it will yield results:
We'll use this club off the tee on every single hole except par 3's where we might need another club.
160 yards is the minimum but essentially what you want is the LONGEST club you can hit STRAIGHT.
So select any club in your bag that you feel most comfortable with to hit 160 or more yards. The longer, the better of course. This could be your fairway wood, hybrid, driver or 5 iron. Whatever club it is, it must be consistent and straight. You should use this off the tee most often.
Your goal is just to hit fairways off the tee. Because we're looking for bogeys, there's no need to hit the ball as far as possible. We just need fairways with a decent enough distance to clear the rough before the fairway. With this tactic, we'll make bogeys but along the way, a few pars too!
When I was first broke 90, my go-to club off the tee was a 5 wood. It had a reliable shot-shape and I could hit it nicely 95% of the time.
While we're trying to avoid these 30-70 yard pitch shots on the course as much as we can, they'll inevitably happen. So it's best to learn to play them because they'll save you three or more shots per round.
You select the club you prefer to use. It can be a Lob Wedge, Gap Wedge, Sand Wedge or Pitching Wedge. Whatever you perform best with. I like to use a Sand Wedge or a Lob Wedge.
This will take some practice but there's a great way to learn how to judge these shots and build confidence. The system is based around the arms of a clock.
Below is Dave Pelz, the short game guru on how to actually do it. It works - I've been using this system for the last 10 years and this one technique took me into the single digit handicaps. In the video he talks about using this for all your wedges, but don't worry too much about using multiple clubs for now. Learn to control the distance with one wedge first. We want to simplify this as much as possible.
Find two clubs you know you can hit on the green from 150 yards or less. Just two. And the choice is up to you - whatever you like the most!
Mine are my pitching wedge from 120 to 130 yards and a gap wedge from 105-115 yards.
I may hit it longer or shorter than you, but that doesn't mean a thing. If you can hit almost every green with an 8 iron from 120 yards and pitching wedge from 100 yards, that's perfect.
You're going to use these two clubs for your final approach shots to greens. For instance, you might have 240 yards to the green after your drive on a very long par 4. You know you can't reach so what we're going to do is break the distance into two shots.
You need to be thinking 'how can I place my ball so that I hit my FAVORITE iron into the green for my 3rd shot?'
For example what I did in the video you'll see below was take a 240 yard shot and think 'I love hitting my pitching wedge from 120. 240 yards is two shots of 120 yards! Perfect! Two nice pitching wedges irons and I'm on the green. This works MUCH better than a 3 wood into the rough and a difficult 50 yard pitch shot from the deep grass!
Warning: Be prepared: people will think you're weird, but guess what - you're going to break 90 this way baby! Without question. Split your long approaches into shorter approaches and watch your partners crumble in front of your eyes when you break 90 easily!
Three-putts are score killers. Everyone can two-putt. It's just a matter of some practice. Hit the practice green after work once or twice a week for 30 minutes to an hour and you'll see your scores dropping.
Our aim is a PFP - Putt For Par. We just need to get onto the greens with a putt for par regardless of the distance from the hole. So if you can make one or two for par, that's a bonus. But be happy with a two putt bogey every time as well!
Golden nugget: Inside 10 feet, keep your head down forever. By this, I mean you strike your putt and don't even look up at the hole - keep your eyes like lasers on the point where your ball was resting.
Don't even see the ball going in, just listen for the rattle of the ball in the hole. This will help you make those pesky putts you always push right or leave short. It takes a conscious effort and a lot of discipline but works like a charm!
Here's a drill I highly recommend for lag putting that I used when I was trying to break 90.
Select a club you like to bump-and-run chip with. By that I mean a club you can consistently get onto the green and get it rolling to the hole. The flop or lob shot is too difficult and inconsistent for guys trying to break 90 and you'll skull and fluff too many.
I've always loved the pitching wedge to chip with and I've used it as long as I can remember. Select yours and practice with this one club whenever you can on a chipping green or even at home. Check out the practice routine in the practice section below.
Golden nugget: Remember the goal of chipping is not always to chip it CLOSE. The goal is to get the ball on the green. That means no dropping the toiletry bag and leaving it short of the green with another chip on the way. Be aggressive enough to GET THE BALL ON THE GREEN SOMEWHERE!
Something that is overlooked is the pre-shot routine. Think of when you take a shower. Maybe you start with a rinse, then in this order you wash your hair, ears, face, arm pits, do a little twirl with your arms in the air, then its onto the front, sack back and crack then the bottom of your feet.
Now if you don't do it like that one particular day, you might feel a little weird - like you've forgotten something and it'll be on your mind all day. That's the same thing with a pre-shot routine. It helps you to be at ease and forget anything else besides this next shot.
But not all pre-shot routines are created equal.
Swashbuckling flamboyant 'just-because' swings of the club are pointless. When you perform your pre-shot routine, have a super clear vision in your mind of the shot you're about to hit. Always have a plan in your mind. Always envision the shot and the shot thereafter.
I only realized I had this problem in 2015 after playing golf for 17 years. I just swung practice swings without any purpose like Jack Sparrow with his sword. Can you believe that? Don't be like me. Be better!
Below is a great explanation by Rick Shiels about pre-shot routines.
You'll notice in the explanations below that all you need to break 90 are the 5 shots I've suggested above whether it's long par 4's or short par 5's.
These holes are all reachable in one shot if you're playing off the correct tees.
You should look to be on or near the green on par 3's. Be happy with bogeys here and be sure to get on the green in one or maximum two shots. On long par 3's look for a safe bail out area where if you miss, you'll have an easy chip onto the green and then purposefully hit it there.
Don't be a hero and go for the green if you can't reach. A bogey is not a bad score!
Shorter par 4's are your target to try hit the green in two shots. If a par 4 is only 300-350 yards, you can hit it on or around the green in two shots. If you practice hitting the club we selected above for tee shots, you'll be in positions to hit the short par 4's in two.
On longer par 4's try to be on the green in three shots. For example on a 450 yard par 4:
A couple of the par 5's will be reachable for you in three shots. Try to hit one or two of them in three shots. It's not always possible but when you see a par 5 that's 480 yards, that's only 160 yards per shot and you can definitely reach that!
There's no need to boom drivers either if you're not accurate.
I took everything you've read above and put it into practice to show you how to break 90 with some tips and fundamentals along the way. It's about 20 minutes long. You'll find some tips and instruction in the video and I believe if you follow similar steps and work on the keys to breaking 90, you can do it within a few rounds.
Each shot was recorded once and no retakes were allowed. I shot it in Malaysia at the Kukup Golf Resort.
My tee shots on all par 4 and par 5 holes: SIX IRON (175 yards)
My favorite approach shots: PITCHING WEDGE (120-130 yards) & GAP WEDGE (105-115 yards)
My chipping club: PITCHING WEDGE
My pitching club: SAND WEDGE
Remember your selections from the previous section? Take only those clubs to the driving range. Try find a grass driving range because the artificial turf gives you good shots even if you hit the ball fat.
Here's an example (remember these choices are up to you):
Armed with only these 4 clubs, go to the driving range and run through a full 18 holes on your home course. Tee off with a vision of the hole in your mind and use the driving ranges flags or signs or fairway to identify where you need to hit the ball to 'hit the fairway'. This is way more fun than just beating balls like a robot.
Remember: Take your time on each shot throughout your imaginary round. Do your full shot routine. Take a 2 minute break between hits. Don't ever rush your driving range time. Consciously program the feelings you are getting from the shots and actually feel your confidence building up inside you.
Corniest (but most effective) driving range tip you'll ever hear: When you hit a good shot on the driving range with one of your 4 clubs, pretend to take that shot inside your hand and then deposit it into a pocket in your golf bag like fairy dust so you can take it out the bag on the golf course when you need it. I know I sound like an idiot now, but try it! It actually works!
Go to your local range, golf course or golfing mecca and practice your chipping and putting. If you don't have any of these things, practice in your yard and if your yard is too small, practice in your house and if your house is too small, take a break for two weeks, then give up golf completely:
If you've made it this far, well done. Because the next few concepts below will make the biggest difference to your score. You WILL break 90 by following these guidelines.
So important and impactful in fact, you may be shocked just how many shots under 90 you end up shooting. Check out these important concepts highlighted in red below:
You probably could've broken 90 already if you played off the correct tees!
How do you know which ones to pick? There are a couple of ways to select your tee box:
Average drive distance multiplied by 28. So if your average drive is 230 yards, a challenging length of a course should be 230 yards x 28 = 6440 yards maximum.
You can go 5% higher or lower. So a range of between 6000 to 6700 yards. You won't be able to match the yardage to a set of tees exactly, but close enough!
If there are too many par fours over 400 yards on the course you play, move up a tee.
Fuhgeddaboudit! Hey man, stay strong, it's your game and you're there to have the most fun. No one minds if you play off shorter tees during social rounds! If you're in a good mood because you're enjoying your game and that makes it more fun for the other guys, they really don't care. But if you're playing poorly and getting in a bad mood off the longer tees, then it'll make it more unpleasant for them
Those 300 yard drives the guys boast about? The pitching wedge that goes 160 yards? Those are unicorns and they might hit 1 out of 20 that distance. Scale back the ego and learn how far you REALLY hit your clubs MOST OF THE TIME. With your rangefinder or GPS watch telling you the distance, you can select the correct club and hit more greens.
This is such an underestimated factor in playing better golf. I can't stress enough how important it is to hit enough club on your approaches to lower your score and break 90 and even 80. Many guys use that one perfect shot they hit to gauge their club distances and never revisit their calculations.
If your perfect 7 iron goes 175 yards but you hit it 165 yards MOST OF THE TIME, then use 165 yards as your 7 iron distance. By using the 175 yards, you handicap yourself by very often being 10 yards short of the target which means more chips, more bunker shots and higher scores. You'll need to do this for every club in your bag but once you get past the dent in your ego, the better scores make up for the pain, believe me.
I was always the guy who scoffed at a rangefinder. I was pacing the distances and guessing but then I played with my friend Dietmar who uses a rangefinder. I double checked my distances and I was always off and sometimes by 10 yards. That explains why I was always one club short of the green and chipping all the time.
How to use it:
From the tee: measure distances to bunkers and hazards and select a club you can swing fully without worrying about reaching them.
From the fairway: measure to the pin and measure carry over water by shooting the bank. Shoot to find the distance to the front edge or carry over bunkers by shooting the lip with the rangefinder.
Calculate your distance: You can also shoot the rangefinder from where your ball is, back to the place you hit from to get an accurate gauge of the distance. This is incredibly valuable information. Scorecards and distance markers can be off depending on the day and your rangefinder will give you 100% accurate distances.
Armed with this info, you can adapt and learn your game as you go. Without this knowledge, you're doomed to keep repeating the same errors in selecting clubs and hitting less greens.
Another option is to get a golf GPS watch that has a feature to count your distance as you walk. Something like the Bushnell NEO-Ion is a good choice.
The difference between an enlightened golfer and a frustrated golfer is this one concept. You need to be thinking about the shot AFTER the shot you're hitting. This means you should be thinking where the shot you're hitting is likely to end up, and what you'll do after that. Below are two quiz questions to illustrate this:
Before we can answer, you must know your favorite club to hit into a green. It's important to understand which is your favorite iron for approach shots and from what distance. I have two: pitching wedge from 130 or a smooth 53° Wedge from 100-110 yards.
Now that you know your favorite club, hit a shot that will make your next shot the distance to the green where you can hit that favorite club.
So instead of booming a fairway wood 180 or 190 yards and leaving yourself a VERY difficult 40 or 50 yard pitch, rather put yourself into a position to hit the best club in your bag onto the green with confidence! The results will astound you.
In the picture above, I would hit my pitching wedge 130 yards and then hit my 53° wedge onto the green. I am so confident with it, I can almost guarantee I'll hit it to 10 feet or less.
For you it might be a 6 iron followed by an 8 iron. Or a 5 iron followed by a sand wedge. It's totally up to you, but find the club you love to hit into greens and if you find yourself in a position where the green is out of reach, split the remaining distance into two shots, leaving your favorite shot into the green!
Answer: Aim for 'A'
If you aim at B and hit it short or with a fade, you'll end up in the bunker and that's a nasty bunker shot. Aiming at C means you can hit the ball other side of the bunker and need to chip over the bunker to get onto the green. There's also a chance of hitting it in the bunker. Too much danger!
Aiming at 'A' means you can leave it short or even hit a draw and be in a position to chip the ball with a lot of green to work with and the ground is flat to the left without a big drop off like the right side. If you hit a little fade, the ball will land between your target and the pin but a straight shot will also be on the green just a bit further away. There is no danger hitting it at 'A' and is the high percentage play. You'll probably hit the green and two putt or chip and two putt for a bogey. That's all you need to break 90!
Golden nugget: Play for your shot shape but always aim to a position where even a straight shot won't be in danger and never hit a ball toward a hazard. So in the picture above: if you hit a fade, you aim at 'A' and if it fades, it's in a good spot. If it goes dead straight, it's still in a good position.
How many times have you addressed a golf ball and thought 'this isn't enough club' or 'this just feels like too much club'?
These little thoughts destroy your game because you hesitate when swinging and don't take a confident swipe at the ball.
It's essential, vital, paramount to have a vision in your head of what your shot will look like and what the result will be. If you're not sure where the ball is gonna go, redo your pre-shot routine and GET THE VISION! Then say to yourself 'this is the right club and it'll land on the right side of the green where I can putt for a birdie'
Golden nugget: When you have any thought in your mind other than the shot you're playing while addressing the golf ball, step away and reset. This takes discipline and is difficult to do at first but the benefits are amazing. Start implementing this strategy today!
Common thoughts that make me step away:
Simply back off, go through the pre-shot routine again and focus on the shot. Get a different club if you're not sure. Wipe your sweaty hand on your towel. Whatever it takes. It only happens a few times a round, but avoiding these bad situations where you hit a poor shot through lack of concentration will help you break 90 quicker than you thought possible.
If you ever play golf with me, you'll see me take another pre-shot routine and talk to myself out loud because my first one was a pointless swinging of the club like a fool. I take another two swings imagining a nice high fade with the driver and I say out loud, 'that's the one I want, let's hit that shot, easy' and 90% of the time, it comes out how I want.
100% of shots I'm not committed to end in disaster. Without exception.
It doesn't matter if you're a scratch golfer or a newbie, committing 100% to every single shot is the key to great golf.
Warming up properly and making a good swing from the first tee is vital to get a good start and break 90. Being 8 over par after 4 holes sucks and is difficult to come back from.
Take 5 balls onto the practice putting green and hit putts to holes from 20 feet away. Keep hitting the putts to different holes until you can consistently stop the ball within 2 feet of the hole.
Then take the same three balls and place them in a circle three feet from a hole. Make all the putts without missing any.
Take 5 balls and hit chips to a couple of holes. Try to land the ball on a particular spot and get a feel for the greens. Don't worry about being highly accurate - we just want to get our eyes and hands working in unison hitting the ball onto a spot on the green.
You probably sit at a desk all day and have turned into Quasimodo like I did. Don't tee off with cold Quasimodo muscles - warm up any way you know how because you know it's going to take you 4 holes to warm up properly. No good! I used to do it and it meant I was playing catch-up for 14 holes to shoot a good score.
If you have a driving range at your course, hit 20 balls. Hit four shots with each of the following in this order:
1. Your favorite wedge x 4
2. Your favorite iron x 4
3. Your favorite hybrid x 4
4. Your favorite fairway wood x 4
5. Your first tee shot club. You should stop hitting when you hit a perfect shot with this club even if you have balls left. Take that positive feeling to the tee.
After you're done, take 10 to 15 minutes to perform the following stretches and movements. This is exactly what I do before golf. If you have no driving range available, just do the stretches.
This is one of the most important ideas on this list and essential to breaking 90. The only way to break 100, 90 or 80 is to never count up your score until the end of the round. You can keep score but don't add it up halfway, in your head or otherwise. Just wait til the clubhouse and add it up there.
Neither I, nor any of my golfing buddies have broken through a score barrier while counting up the strokes throughout the round.
I broke 90 and 80 on the same golf course - a par 70. Breaking 90 is a mental barrier and when you've done it once, it happens more and more regularly. Choosing a course with a par of 70 means you can shoot 19 over for an 89. That's two extra strokes you can take compared to a par 72 where you need 17 over to break 90.
This isn't a requirement, but a simple idea that could help you get over the hurdle.
We all have our best golfing buddies and some of us are lucky to have good players as buddies. But often we get stuck playing every round with guys who aren't interested in progressing.
If your golfing partners are not as good as you, I highly suggest finding a group to play with sometimes where you're the worst player in the group. It doesn't have to be a huge difference in skill level but at least guys who shoot mid-80's every round (10 to 15 handicappers).
You might think better players don't want to play with higher handicappers, but that's not true. We're all a brotherhood on the golf course and with a good attitude and fun chit-chat, we'll play with anyone.
Playing with better players will let you take a bit more time on your shots, because the other guys do. You'll care more about each shot, because they care about their shots. You'll notice how they approach each hole and how they score in the 80's which will rub off on you and you'll be shooting mid 80's in no time.
If you have a matchplay competition league in your area or in your club, join up. You'll be forced to play against other people to progress in the league but the other golfers will be in your handicap range so they'll be moderately better or equal to you. The extra focus and determination when competing against other guys will improve your scores.
Do you get tense on the golf course? Do you grip the putter with white knuckles or wring the club's neck? Tension kills tempo and accuracy - both of which you need to get below 90.
A quick tip to relieve the tension is to have a relaxing habit. That can be putting a tee between your teeth to relieve jaw tension or it could be chewing gum to get the neck muscles and jaw loosened up. Find yourself something that will relieve tension on the golf course for those days when you're feeling extra edgy.
Before you even get to the course, you're probably thinking, 89 is just 17 bogeys and 1 par on a par 72 track. That's the advice everyone gets. While it's true and you should understand that, it's not really a strong mental game plan. We'll show you later how to use that idea to create an on-course strategy.
The best tip to get in the zone is to attach no value to the end result. It's difficult but the easiest way to break 90 is to have fun. Enjoy chatting with your buddies. Have fun being away from the women. Just immerse yourself in the golf experience and realize how lucky you are to be able to enjoy this hobby.
Golf Zen moment
"The detachment from desire to score will get you the score you desire" - Golf Sidekick Buddha 2017
Isn't it strange how we get to the ball deep in trouble and think we can hit it on the green through a small gap in the trees? I mean trees are 80% air, right?
But 95% of the time, we screw it up and have a blow out hole. If you want to break 90, you need to eliminate blow out holes (doubles or worse). If you find yourself in the trees, just get the ball out to a place you can play the next shot easily.
Try get on the green and make a putt or 2 putt for a bogey or maximum double bogey. Triples and quadruples are killers! Always look for the easiest most obvious route and silence that inner Seve Ballesteros!
"A golfer becomes what he hates. If a golfer trying to break 90 says 'damn another bogey, man', he himself will become a bogeyman" - Golf Sidekick Buddha, 2017
Yes. You only need a club that you can trust to go straight and hit the fairway. The only requirement is that the club can carry 160 or so yards to get you onto the fairways. In fact, it's easier to shoot 90 with a hybrid, 5 iron, 7 iron, wedge and putter than with 14 clubs. Leave the driver at home if it doesn't put you in a good position 90% of the time.
According to the USGA, 59% of golfers play off a handicap of 15 or below. That is usually someone who can break 90 consistently. But that's handicapped golfers. If we include every golfer that plays more than 5 times in their life, I would estimate only about 40% of golfers could break 90 in their lives. Unless of course, they follow my guide. Then I think 80% of you can!
If you can shoot between 90 and 100 you don't need a lesson. Lessons can be great value to teach you how to do things properly, but if you can hit a golf ball in the air every shot, all you need to do is practice, use the techniques and tips I've given you here and check out some more guides I put together like the putting, chipping, pitching, using the driving range and fitness guides.
I would actually say getting fitter and more flexible will improve your golf equally as much as practicing the shots.
Please leave a comment with any other tips you've found to improve your game and if you disagree with anything I've mentioned here let me know. Good luck and enjoy shooting in the 80's.