You probably started playing golf for fun, to be social, to hang out with a golfer you care about, and then it happened: you got hooked. You hit enough good shots that the game got in your blood, and you started to care about your score. Now you want to break 100. That’s the bad news.
But there’s good news: you’re in the right place. With just a few hundred words I’m going to set you on a proven path to breaking 100.
What do you have to do to break 100? Not much
9 bogeys + 9 double bogeys = 99
You’ve already made plenty of pars and bogeys, so you know you can do this. All you need is a plan.
Matt’s Two Commandments
Whether you’re trying to break 100, 90, 80, or even 70, these are the two most important rules. Just like the Ten Commandments, they’re easy to understand but hard to live by. However, if you can follow these two simple rules, shooting over 100 is nearly impossible.
Golf is Hard, Make it Easier
In baseball, you can make over $10 million a year for throwing the ball. You can stink at hitting. If you play in the American League, you don’t even have to try.
In football, you block, tackle, catch, or throw, but no one expects you to do more than one of those things.
In basketball, you can have a brilliant career doing little more than camping outside the 3 point line and making jump shots.
In golf, however, you need to master a lot of different skills to be good: driving, putting, iron play, chipping, pitching, etc. But here’s the secret that no one has told you: you don’t need to master all those skills to break 100. The first step to breaking 100 is paring down that laundry list of skills to the ones that are essential to your current goal.
The Skills You Need
1) Putting. Putting is unavoidable. You need to be a competent putter. Thankfully, this is the easiest skill in golf, from a physical standpoint.
2) Mid-short iron swing. You need to move the ball around the course, and the 7-iron is going to be your best tool for that job. You’ll need to learn to be reasonably accurate and consistent with your irons from 7 through PW.
3) Simple pitch and chip. You are going to miss greens, so you will need a way to get the ball on the green from inside 100 yards.
Notice that you do NOT need long irons, hybrids, fairway woods, flop shots, or, most of all, a driver. For high handicap players, the driver adds more strokes than it saves by a huge margin. Yes, hitting driver is fun (sometimes), but you’ll notice that this is not a plan for having fun on the golf course, it’s a plan for breaking 100…which is fun all the time.
Here’s a simple plan to develop the skills you need to break 100.
Competent putting is really composed of two skills: making short putts (inside 4′) and getting longer putts into that 4′ circle. Making putts outside of 4′ is a bonus (even tour pros don’t do it with regularity), so we’re not going to practice that. Putting practice should consist of two things:
1) Around the World Drill: Using 1 ball, I repeat, 1 ball, work your way around the cup making 3′ or 4′ putts. Challenge yourself to focus on each putt and make 5, 10, 20, or more in a row. The purpose of using only one ball is that it forces you to focus. If you have another ball set up, it’s easy to just swipe at each one and move on to the next. It also makes practice more game-like.
2) 18 Holes of Putting: Take 1 ball and drop it 20-50 feet from a cup. Putt until you make it. Repeat 17 times from different locations and distances. The goal is to have 36 or fewer putts.
Mid-Short Iron Swing
Having never seen you or your swing, I can’t tell you how to improve your swing. What I can do is give you some guidelines for effective practice.
1) Use alignment aids. This is something that virtually every PGA Tour professional does, but few very amateurs do. When you’re at the range, lay down some clubs or alignment sticks to help you create good, consistent alignment. You can read more about this HERE.
2) Mix block and random practice. This means that sometimes it’s good to hit twenty 8-irons in a row, but that shouldn’t be all you do. Some of your practice time should be devoted to hitting shots like you do on the course: hit an 8-iron, then a PW, then a 7-iron, each with a full pre-shot routine.
3) Know your distances, ball flights, and tendencies. Every good player can tell you how far each club goes, the type of flight they expect on a stock shot, and what their tendencies are with each club. For example, I hit a pitching wedge 135 yards in the air, the ball flight is medium high with right-to-left movement, and my bad tendency is to pull it too far left. This may be slightly more difficult for the beginning golfer because of a lack of consistency, but if you pay attention patterns will emerge. Knowing these patterns is essential for good decision making on the course.
Simple Pitch and Chip
Statistics tell us that a golfer who shoots 99 does not hit any greens in regulation, which means you will need to chip and pitch frequently. The key is developing a shot that you can rely on to get you onto the green in one swing.
Again, I don’t know you or your swing, so I will not suggest what technique you should use, but I will give you some ideas and a practice procedure to test and develop your skills.
1) Develop one simple motion that you can use to chip and pitch the ball. Learn to vary the distance that the ball goes by varying the length of the swing and, later, by using different clubs. By doing this, you will simplify your short game and be able to cover a wide range of distances.
2) Be able to verbalize your chipping/pitching motion. What I mean is, be able to describe what the swing feels like so that you can use it effectively under pressure. That feeling could be “Firm wrists, turn chest back and through.” Whatever it is, keep it simple so you can rely on it during your round.
3) Once you have developed a repeatable chip/pitch shot, make your practice game-like. Do not hit multiple shots to the same target at the same distance. Hit a shot from the fringe, then hit a 10 yard shot, then a 50 yard shot, then a 20 yard shot, etc. Your goal for each shot should simply be to get the ball on the green. When you can regularly hit the green in one stroke from varying distances, your short game is ready to break 100.
The Game Plan
The first decision you’re going to make that will help you break 100 is choosing an appropriate set of tees. There is no reason on Earth why someone shooting over 100 should play more than 6500 yards, and even that’s pushing it. Playing shorter tees will take the pressure off your game and allow you to hit more good shots. There’s plenty of time to play the longer tees when you’re consistently shooting in the 90’s or 80’s.
Once you’re on the course, the things that you need to focus on are keeping the ball in play, avoiding unnecessary risk, and hitting the ball to the center of the green.
Keep the Ball In Play
By leaving everything longer than a 7-iron at home, you’ve already taken a major step towards keeping the ball in play. The other key is not over-swinging. Don’t stand on the tee and try to hit your 7-iron 250 yards. If you’re 7-iron goes 140 yards, don’t try to hit the green when you’re 160 yards out. Swing within yourself and keep the ball in play.
Avoid Unnecessary Risk
Even with nothing longer than a 7-iron, it’s likely that you will find trouble at some point. That’s OK, remember that there’s a lot of room for error in this plan. The key is not compounding your mistakes. If you hit it into the trees, punch out. If there is a forced carry that you could only make if you hit your 7-iron absolutely perfectly, lay up. You can make bogeys and doubles and break 100. When you start making triples and quads, breaking 100 becomes much more difficult.
Aim for the Center of the Green
Until you’re putting, pretend that the flag doesn’t even exist. Hit the ball to the center of the green. If you hit just a couple of greens in regulation, you will nearly guarantee a score in the 90’s. Missing the green, even by a small margin, is strongly correlated with higher scores. Give yourself the widest margin for error when attacking the green by aiming for the center.
If you’ve mastered the three skills discussed here and you bring these three pieces of course management wisdom to the course, you will be shooting in the 90’s in no time. Then you can start working on breaking 90!