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Top 5 Tips to Break 90 for the First Time

Congratulations on achieving a significant milestone in your golfing journey by breaking 100! Now, you’re poised to embark on the next exciting chapter: aiming to break 90.

In the challenging game of golf, you’ve likely mastered some fundamental skills that will only get better with time. Once you break 100, you’ve officially joined the ranks of golfers, as around 90% of regular players achieve this milestone at some point in their lives.

Though breaking 100 was a tough achievement, breaking 90 proves even more challenging, yet far more gratifying. Once you surpass the 90 barrier, you transition from being among 90% of golfers to a much smaller group, the top 30% in the world.

In this article, I aim to share my experiences as a former college player and provide my top five tips on how to quickly improve your game and break into the 80s.

Breaking 90 – A Timeline and the Path Forward

The path from breaking 100 to breaking 90 can be very different for each individual player.

Some players seem to progress through this stage in under a year after they figure out how to consistently hit the ball while others will live in this purgatory for the rest of their golfing life.

With a couple of days of play or practice each week, I believe most players can achieve a score below 90 within 1-2 years after breaking 100. This milestone is attainable, but it requires patience and hard work to accomplish.

Now, let’s jump into my top five tips to progress as quickly as possible to score below 90!

Getting the Ball in Play with Driver

In my earlier article on breaking 100, I discussed the strategy of leaving the driver in the bag to ensure accuracy off the tee. Breaking 100 doesn’t necessarily require making pars; it’s acceptable to take three shots to reach the green on par 4 holes and four shots on par 5 holes.

However, to break 90, you’ll need to make a few pars to account for a few inevitable doubles, which means hitting the driver off the tee to reach par 4s in two shots and par 5s in three shots is crucial.

Also, getting comfortable with the driver off-the-tee is going to set your game up to reach higher levels after getting through the 90 barrier.

The three most important things to consider with your driver as a high-handicap player are:

Pick a Shot Shape and Stick to It

Regardless of whether your natural drive fades or draws, I encourage you to stick with that same shot shape consistently. Whether it’s a dogleg left or right, aim for your preferred shot shape. There will be opportunities later to learn about hitting shots in the opposite direction. If your shot shape with the driver doesn’t suit the hole, consider using another club to get your tee ball in play.

Learn Speed on the Range, Not the Course

Learning to hit the ball far is a skill that you need to learn early in your journey. However, this is a skill that needs to be developed on the driving range and not the golf course while trying to shoot a score.

On the course, you need to feel controlled and balanced while on the range, I encourage you to have sessions where you focus only on speed.

Once you get faster on the range, your balanced and controlled swing on the course will naturally get faster too!

Make Sure Your Driver Fits You

When first getting started in golf, your driver head, shaft, loft, and lenght didn’t really matter as all you were trying to do is figure out how to consistently hit the ball on the clubface.

Now that you are more advanced and looking to get better, it is time to go get truly fit for a driver. This doesn’t mean you need to purchase a $500 upgraded shaft but it does mean you need to make sure you are playing the correct loft, shaft flex, and length to maximize your distance and dispersion off-the-tee.

If you follow these three tips, your driving will quickly get to where it needs to be for you to have a chance at breaking 90 for the first time.

Learn Your Yardages to Manage Approach Play

Now that you are consistently hitting your drives in play off-the-tee, it is time to improve your approach play.

Similar to the driver, it’s crucial not to overcomplicate things as a high handicap player. Before focusing on controlling trajectory and shot shape, it’s important to master your natural shot shape and become proficient at controlling your distance.

Many high-handicap players may think they know how far they hit each club, but in reality, they often don’t. Having an accurate carry distance for each club in your bag is essential, and notice that I said carry distance, not total distance.

The best way to get this number is from a launch monitor but if you don’t have access to one below is the best process to follow to get you in the ballpark:

  1. Go to the golf course either early in the morning or late in the evening when the range is empty.
  2. Hit 5 shots with each club in your bag, marking each ball with a sharpie so you know what ball went to what club.
  3. After hitting 5 balls with each club, walk out to measure the middle three shots that you hit with each club.
  4. Take the average of these three balls to get your carry number for each club.
  5. Since you are looking for carry distance, you can take off 5-10 yards from these numbers depending on how firm your range is.

Most high handicap players come up short more than they realize so having a number to go off of instead of guessing will get you on the green in regulation more often.

Short Game – Learn to Get the Easy Shots Up and Down

To break 90, you are going to have to get a few shots up and down around the gree, either for par or to save bogey.

At this point in your golf game, you should aim to get down in three shots from medium to shots around the green. However, you’re more than capable of getting most of the easy shots up and in at this stage.

I would consider easy shots to be any low chip and run that is fairly flat, inside 40 feet, and within 10 steps of the green.

Practice is key to seeing improvement in this area. Spend just a few minutes before or after your round practicing your short game. Make a game out of trying to get as many easy chips up and down in a row as possible. Start with a goal of 2 and work your way up.

This is going to help you shave those few critical shots you need when you hit a good iron shot in that was just barely off the mark.

Putting – Speed, Speed, Speed

I’ve talked about this before and will continue to talk about it, LEARN NOT TO THREE PUTT!

There are so many players currently shooting in the 90s that could consistently shoot high 80s simply by cutting three-putts out alone.

The number one way to reduce three putts is by getting better at speed control. To break 90, the following drill is all you need:

  • Set up two tees 10 feet apart on the putting green.
  • Place another tee 10 to 50 feet away from the first tee.
  • Begin putting from the ball positioned on the tee farthest away, aiming to roll it just past the first tee.
  • Now, putt your second ball, aiming to get it just past the first ball but still within the 10-foot area.
  • The objective is to successfully putt 10 balls in a row within the 10-foot area with each putt traveling a little further than the last.
  • Once you complete this drill, you can either move back to a farther distance or reduce your target area to 8 feet instead of 10 feet.

This drill helps you develop a sense of touch and feel for varying distances, improving your ability to control the speed of your putts on the greens which will reduce three putts.

Keep the Doubles Off Your Scorecard

Practically, to break 90 on a par 72 golf course, you need to make 17 bogies and 1 par.

Realistically, no matter how consistent you become with your driving, approach play, chipping, and putting, golf is unpredictable, and you may find yourself writing down a few double bogeys on your card.

While the skills we’ve discussed can help you make more pars throughout your rounds, avoiding doubles is even more crucial.

As your skills improve, you may face situations where you’re tempted to attempt wild recovery shots; resist this urge.

Attempting such shots often leads to double bogeys, which can ruin your chances of breaking 90. When you find yourself out of position, focus on getting your ball back into a good position. Take trouble out of play when you can, ensuring bogey or better.

By avoiding doubles, you’ll find yourself in the 80s in no time!

Key Takeaways

1. Progression to Breaking 90:

  • Transitioning from breaking 100 to breaking 90 is a significant step in your golf journey.
  • While breaking 100 demonstrates fundamental skills, breaking 90 requires consistency and strategy.

2. Top Five Tips for Breaking 90:

a. Mastering the Driver:
  • Key Point: Using the driver off the tee is essential for reaching par 4s and 5s in fewer shots.
  • Tip 1: Stick to a consistent shot shape that suits your game.
  • Tip 2: Develop speed on the range to ensure controlled and balanced swings on the course.
  • Tip 3: Ensure your driver fits you properly to maximize distance and accuracy.
b. Approach Play Management:
  • Key Point: Consistently hitting fairways sets up approach shots for success.
  • Tip: Know your carry distances for each club to land shots closer to the pin consistently.
c. Short Game Efficiency:
  • Key Point: Mastering easy shots around the green is crucial for saving strokes.
  • Tip: Practice easy short chips and pitches to consistently get up and down more often.
d. Putting Mastery:
  • Key Point: Speed control is paramount to avoid three-putts and lower your score.
  • Tip: Use a drill to develop a feel for varying distances and improve speed control on putts.
e. Avoiding Doubles:
  • Key Point: Minimizing double bogeys is crucial for breaking 90.
  • Tip: Prioritize getting back into a good position rather than attempting risky recovery shots to avoid big numbers on your scorecard.
Patrick Stephenson
Patrick Stephenson

Hello, I’m Patrick Stephenson, a golf enthusiast and a former Division 1 golfer at East Carolina University in Greenville, North Carolina. I have an MBA degree and a +4 handicap, and I love to share my insights and tips on golf clubs, courses, and instruction through this blog.

Here are clubs that I rely on when I play golf:

Driver: Ping 425 Max
3 Wood: Titleist 917
Hybrid: Titleist 818
4-7 Iron: TaylorMade 760
PW-8 Iron: TaylorMade 7MC
58, 54, 50 Wedges: Vokey SSM9
Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red S

Articles: 49

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