In this article, I’m going to provide you with the definitive, fool-proof guide on How to Break 90. Why? Because I know that it’s one goal that a huge majority of avid golfers share. “I want to break 90” is the second most common goal that my students have, behind only, “be more consistent.”
I will warn you that this plan is unorthodox. Then again, if doing things the “normal” way worked, you wouldn’t be reading this, would you? Follow this plan and I give you a 100% GUARANTEE that you will have an 89 (or better) in the books in no time.
Get Your Mind Right
A huge part of breaking through any scoring barrier is creating the proper mindset. To break 90, you need to do two things:
1) Realize that 89 is 17 bogeys and 1 par (on a par 72 course). That’s it. I know that every golfer who wants to break 90 has made lots of pars and bogeys before, so there’s nothing involved in breaking 90 that you can’t do already.
2) Pick the right tee box. You cannot go into this with the idea that you have to break 90 from the tips. Breaking 90 is breaking 90, period. If you have to go all the way to the forward tees to break 90, do it. Scoring barriers are mental more than anything else, and once they’ve fallen, they’re down for good. You should want to break them as soon as possible, regardless of the yardage of the course.
There are two commandments to Breaking 90. You must abide by these commandments, lest you be doomed to shooting 91 for the rest of your days.
1) Thou shalt not three putt.
2) Thou shalt not take penalty strokes.
Please note that the second one doesn’t mean “don’t count your penalty strokes,” it means “don’t hit it OB, into the water, etc.”
The Shots You Need
To shoot under 90, you don’t need to be Ben Hogan, you only need 3 shots.
1) An iron that you can hit 150 yards or more without ever getting in trouble
2) A reliable pitch shot
3) A good putting stroke
You will notice that the driver is not on this list. You do not need it to break 90. In fact, don’t even bring it with you to the course.
The “Breaking 90” Practice Plan
This practice plan is built entirely around learning, refining, and testing the three shots that you need to break 90. When you can complete each Test, you’re ready to take your game to the course to bag that 89.
Phase 1: The Iron Shot
The first thing you need to do is find out exactly how far you hit your chosen iron (let’s call it a 7I), and each club below it (8I, 9I…). This will be essential for course management. There are some tips on figuring this out HERE.
Next, you need to work on your accuracy and consistency. For accuracy, make sure you’re hitting shots to a target and keeping track of where your misses go. For consistency, the goal is to hit every shot the full distance, whether that’s 150, 155, or 160 yards. Plus or minus a few yards is fine, but you can’t break 90 if you’re laying the sod over the ball.
Finally, spend some of your practice time on your shorter irons. These may come into play as well, depending on the course.
Test: Hit 9/10 iron shots into a 60 foot (left to right) window at least 150 yards away.
Phase 2: The Pitch
This is probably the most difficult part of this plan for most golfers. You will need to develop a reliable pitch shot that will allow you to hit a green from 20 to 100 yards away. The method you use does not matter: you can use Dave Pelz’s “Clock” method, a Stan Utley pitch, or whatever homebrewed method you concoct. The key is reliability.
You do NOT need to go flag hunting. This plan is based on hitting the green, not knocking down pins. Practice hitting shots to the biggest, safest part of the green, just like you will on the course.
Part of why this is so difficult is that good short game practice facilities are hard to come by. If you don’t have one, improvise. Take some buckets or towels and place them on the range at varying distances. Just be sure to clean up after yourself.
When you practice, don’t hit the same length shot over and over; this is not how you will play on the course. Hit a 50 yarder, then a 20 yarder, than a 90 yarder. Keep track of the distances that are best and worst for you. This will be important for your course management.
Test: Hit the green 10/10 times from varying distances. Don’t hit the same length shot twice in a row or more than twice overall.
Phase 3: The Putt
The primary thing that you need to do is lag putt well and clean up your short putts, so build your practice around that. Here are some sample drills:
Set up 4 balls around the hole at roughly 3 feet and make all of them. Repeat until you’ve made 20 in a row.
Put 3 balls at 3’, 5’, and 7’, all on the same line, for a total of 9 balls. Make all the 3’ putts in a row, then move back to the 5’ putts then the 7’ putts. The goal is to make 9 in a row. If you miss, start over.
Drop 3 balls at 30’ (or 40’, 50’, etc). Putt each of them towards a cup or a tee. If the balls end up within 3’, you win. See how many wins you can get in a row.
You can also find some excellent putting tips HERE.
Test: Take one ball and drop it anywhere from 10 to 60 feet from the cup. Putt it until you hole it out. Do this 18 times, from 18 different spots. If you can complete this in 36 or fewer strokes, you pass.
The Game Plan
These holes will provide your best opportunity to make the one par that you need, but they can also be the holes that derail your round. Let’s discuss some specifics:
150 yards or less: These are your best opportunities to make your par. Choose the appropriate club, aim for the center of the green, and make your best swing. With a little luck, you might even make a birdie and give yourself the chance to shoot 88 or better!
150-200 yards: These are the most dangerous holes because of the temptation to go for it. Put your long irons away, and find a nice safe landing area short of the green. These holes, if well managed, are still great par opportunities because your pitch shots should be very short.
200 yards or more: Strangely, I like these holes better for our plan because there is less temptation to go for it. Find a safe landing area that will give you a nice angle into the green. There’s no requirement that you hit your 7I from the tee: if the best landing area is 140 yards away, hit your 8I followed by a 60 yard pitch. Remember that the safety of your target area can be every bit as important as the distance.
These are your bread and butter holes for this strategy: two irons, a pitch, and two putts.
300-330 yards: These holes will provide excellent opportunities to make a par, but you will need to focus on good decision making and course management. After a good tee shot, you will have 150-180 yards left. On the short end, you may consider hitting another 7I straight into the green. If there’s not too much trouble by the green, or if you’re hitting the ball very well, this can be a great choice. If you’re too far out or don’t have the confidence, consider your best wedge distance, the safest landing area, and the best angle into the green when planning your second shot.
3330-370 yards: Most of your par 4’s will probably be in this range. After a good tee shot, you will want to consider what the best second shot club will be. As with the short par 4’s, consider not only your best wedge distance, but also the best angle and safest landing zone.
370-400 yards: These holes will require two strong 7I shots to get you within wedge range. Resist the urge to try to hit your 7I 170 yards off the tee – you don’t need it! Stick to the plan!
If you have par 4s that are longer than 400 yards, you’re playing from the wrong tees.
Unquestionably, the Par 5s are the holes that will most test your commitment to the plan. Your driver will beg to come out (this is why you should leave it at home!). Remain committed to the plan and you will be rewarded.
Even when you hit “only” a 7I off the tee, the Par 5’s can be a great scoring opportunity. If the hole is playing 450 yards or less, you can hit your GIR with three good irons. From 450-500 yards, you will have great opportunities to set up your favorite wedge distance and an optimal angle into the pin. When the holes stretch out to 500-550 yards, you will be tested: you will need four quality shots to hit the green.
Remember: Keep the ball in play and aim for the center of the green.
In Case of Emergency, Read This
As the old boxing cliché goes, “Everyone has a plan until they get hit in the nose.” It’s easy to sit here and think about hitting every fairway and green, but what about when things go wrong? Here’s what to do and what to avoid.
If you miss a fairway
Don’t panic. Play a safe shot that will get the ball back in play. Advance the ball towards the hole if possible, but this is secondary to getting the ball safely back into play. If you can advance the ball to within 150 yards, play your next shot into the green. If not, lay up, wedge on, and try to make a putt.
If you miss a green
Don’t panic. Don’t attempt a Mickelsonian all-or-nothing shot to try to “get one back.” Play a safe shot that will get the ball onto the green and try to make a putt.
If you make a double bogey
Don’t panic. Stick to the plan. The only thing that has changed is that you have to make one more putt. That’s it. The course will give you plenty of opportunities for that.
Don’t panic. Don’t deviate from the plan. If something goes wrong, get the ball back on course and try to make a putt.
I hope you’ve found this plan helpful, and I hope that some of you give it a try. It’s definitely unorthodox, but I think you will find that it is also quite effective.
If you have any thoughts, questions, suggestions, or comments, please post them down below.
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Great tips and plan! I have yet to break 100 and will be using this plan to do so!
Thanks! Please let us know how it goes!
Great tips Matt. Seems like the same mindset, just different goals can go into breaking 80…
Absolutely. I’m sure I’ll write that plan at some point, but basically you’re looking at 7 bogeys and 11 pars. Just a matter of figuring out how to get that done in the simplest way.
This is a nice guide. I have been stuck in the low 90’s for a few months now and have yet to shoot in the 80’s. I have been playing tip to tip though because that is usually where the rest of the playing partners play from. Sadly enough I haven’t even though about moving up to the blues/whites/yellows/reds…I will be trying your advice and move up to the Blues first and see if I have some luck. Breaking the barrier would be a great confidence boost. The other approach I really took from this is the long par 3s. Most courses have 2-3 200+ yard par 3s where I am at and it does seem to be very hit or miss. Par-Triple Bogey depending on that first shot off the tee. Hopefully the layup and pitch will help shave the strokes I need!
Good luck with breaking through!
Those 200+ yard shots are tough for everyone. Even the guys on Tour have (relatively) low %’s from that distance. The key with those holes is knowing where to put the ball and where to miss. In my opinion, a well-designed long par 3 should give you a place where you can play it safe.
Please let me know when you bust into the 80’s!
Great tips!! I went out today and used every one of them. Last couple months I’ve been shooting in the 90s and it was so frustrating. Today I cleared my mind and took my time and played smart golf. Ended the round with an 83. And that was with 2 OBs. Everything was working for the most part.
Great to hear, Mike! That’s a huge jump from the 90’s to 83!
Matt, excellent article!!
Most amateurs do not have a “game plan” she they hit the course(HaHa, probably like their lives
WoW, I thought that I had outgrown butchered posts such as above ;P
What I meant to say is that your template is excellent.
Most Ams have no “game plan” other than to swing for the fences offa the tee and try to keep it in play.
And the best tip from your piece would be regarding the tees that they choose. Forget about the “tips,” whatever their color. Seriously, for 98-99% of the Ams out there, they shouldn’t even think about playing them.
Regarding the Blues and the Whites(members), if a player cannot consistently(80-90% of the time) break 80, they should be playing the whites.
Distance should have nothing to do with the tees that they play.
The object of the game is still to put the ball in the hole & if ya can’t do it in 79 strokes or less, playing as though you have a USGA Rules Official as your caddie, ya got no business playing “back.”
And mentally, just moving to the whites will hopefully change many mind sets from thinking about distance offa the tee to hopefully thinking about placement and the NEXT shot.
A player is playing for the NEXT shot/putt, not thinking about how far that they can hit THIS shot.
Again, great article & sorry bout the above post:)
Fairways & Greens 4ever
Thank you, and no apologies needed!
Thinking about how your current shot will affect the next shot is huge, as you said. Doing so helps to build those strong mental pictures that we both know are so important.
I just found this website and I think its great. I love the reviews and the advice. l have struggled for several years with having a reliable game. In a ten round average I will be in the high 80’s maybe once with the rests between lower 90’s and I play the White almost always. Well after reading this article this weekend I shot a 88 last night with ease, never pulling my drive out of the bag. Thats what always get me in to trouble. Mostly 3 woods and hybirds off the tee box. Using your advice I hope to be in the 80’s more often than the 90. Next I plan to work on the 150 yard shot. Thanks
Sorry, should have check spelling and grammer.
Thank you, I’m glad you’re enjoying the site and that the tips here were helpful to you. Please always feel free to post questions, comments, etc, we’re here to help!
Hi. I am new to playing golf. Always have trouble with the driver but can hit an 8 iron 160 no problem. Never thought of using it off the tee. I will do so next time though and let you know how it goes.
Thanks for the tips.
Good goal template mate, have yet to break 100 myself and will be trying this out this week! been stuck at 115-120 for a while i’ve even tried less beers but that didn’t help much
I have a plan for breaking 100 going up tomorrow! Be sure to check back in, and good luck!
This is the best tip I have ever read on the internet. It makes sense. I usually shoot mid 80’s to mid 90’s. I just played yesterday and shot 95 on a difficult course and with back spasms. I could have broken 90 easily if I stick to the plan, your plan, but I did not have the discipline.
The funny thing is my driving with my driver has been perfect hitting it straight and ending up on the fairway around 210 – 250 range but my second shots were a total waste, ending up in the trees and forced to take a drop. If I used my 7 iron which I usually hit 150 yards and straight, I could have broken 90!.
I kept on using my hybrid trying to shorten the hole, no thinking about the tree lined fairways. It was the last few holes when I finally gave up and used the 7 iron as the go to second shot and I was shooting pars and bogeys.
After reading your well versed article I decided to test your “theory” as it started to make a lot of sense to me as well. I am a 20 handicapper steadily approaching 19 and played 9 holes as per your instructions. I must add that I am a mediocre chipper but have practised putting for some time as I was taught from the get go that “you drive for show and put for dow ($)”…
To my surprise I made 45 shots including a well deserved penalty stroke (my own fault indeed for picking up my head before I hit my ball cause of all the excitement I suppose) as well as having the pleasant surprise that a bad stroke off the tee remains on the fairway!
Also, I need to add that I did play tip to tip (my girlfriend always says I want to be such a man) but the main reason for my decision was three fold:
1. I carry my 7 iron with some ease about 185 yards off the deck relatively straight
2. I want to get remain the mind-set of not giving myself any leeway (I always enjoy a good challenge).
3. Even long par 5’s are quite reachable with three good 7 iron shots.
Although I did not break 90, I feel your guidance has made golf not only simpler and more enjoyable but also teaches one to be mindful of shot choice. I am certain that this weekend I will reach this milestone and then set my eyes on the OTHER elusive benchmark … Breaking the big 80.
Keep up the greatness!!!
I have been throwing away strokes for several years now. In fact many people have said I hit the ball like a low handicapper.
Trouble is that gets me confident that I can take on anything.
However always had a weak short game wedging and chipping along with putting. Practiced hard on this now for some time. I have been shooting in 90’s for over a year now. Broke 90 twice but not regularly.
Using your strategy ideas along with my own ability to take on certain par 4’s I went out with a clear plan on how to play my local course. Simplified many of the par 4’s. I had looks at par putts for the whole round. Scored 88 with 37 putts and 6 GIR. All the 3 putts were from long distance.
Very pleased best round I have played although not lowest because I was in control of myself and my game. Thanks it really put me on the right track.
I’m thrilled to hear that it helped! I hope the good play continues.
Matt – thanks for this great article to help us duffers reach the promised land and break 90. I am a decent iron player and putter, but recently have been awful with my driver. I am going to try your method, abandon my driver, and start using your plan to improve my scores. It is very tempting to be macho man and hit my driver, but inevitably I wind up with a few huge numbers each round that kills my score.
Your expertise is appreciated and I will let you know the next time I break 90 with your plan. Happy 4th of July!
Even before reading your article, I had tried the “safe” way of hitting comfortable irons off the tee box – especially since I was slicing my driver all the time. While the strategy worked 70% of the time ( its not easy to hit three solid 7i shots for a 18+ handicapper – especially from different lies outside the tee box) However, not using the driver made me feel less of a true golfer.
So I spent the next three weeks learning my driver properly and have been hitting my drivers way better – atleast 75% of the time, I get a playable lie ( generally on or left of the fairway).
To me golf is about the fun as well as the score. Low score = more fun no doubt, but the pride of playing a good game comes from being improving in all areas – especially off the tee box. A good start is a halfway to a job well done. To the folks struggling with the driver, get help – lessons, more time on the range, Youtube videos, basic fundamentals ( grip, stance, etc).
All the above being said, golf is such an unforgiving game – my driver’s got much better and my once reliable iron shots have taken a bit of a beating. Back to the range for that now!!
Was Tiger Woods not a “true golfer” at Hoylake in 2006? :)
The beauty of golf is that everyone can play in their own way for their own goals. I’m glad you’ve found a balance that you enjoy. Good luck maintaining the driving success and regaining your iron form.
What this teaches you is more than scoring it’s about discipline and shot selection. Also about acceptance of errors and thinking about shot placement.
If you want to become a better golfer try this. I am now shooting under 90 regularly. There has been a shift in my mind from how far to where I want my ball to land. Along with my swing improvements I feel like I assess a hole on its layout not the distance.
That is where the fun is this game is so multi faceted it’s more than smashing your driver long.
Thanks Matt this one article sent me in a totally different direction.
For the last few weeks I broke 100 three times. Now I told myself its about time to break 90. After reading your strategy on how to break 90, I almost broke 90 cuz I scored 90. I’ll take it anyway. Thank you so much for your tips. I learned how to execute course management.
That’s great! Congratulations! I hope your scores continue to fall.
Hey Matt, Your point is well made…I had to laugh at the stubbornness of my own comment about not going to the women’s tees. What I should’ve written was “I don’t want to go to the women’s tees“ because my buddies would be 2 tees back (I’m already 1 tee in front) and they shoot in the 80s. I will use your approach for holes longer than 350, and continue to work on better FW contact.. Thanks,! Jon
Was curious with the pitch shots to a green with the 10/10 result….what length would you class as a green. Eg.30 foot circle. As. Find a lot of variances in sizes. Thanks
Great question. Google tells me that the average size green on Tour is 6,000 square feet, so we could make a square that’s nearly 80 feet by 80 feet to simulate that green size. Perhaps, in the spirit of “make practice harder than the game” we could do 50′ X 50′ or a circle with a 50′ diameter.
Hope that helps.
Your site is absolutely fantastic and I love your approach to the way of breaking 100, 90s and 80s.
I am giving a shot at your strategy by taking off my bag any club above 7i this weekend. I am generally playing from the blue or black tees with a solid drive (about 290-300 yards, which i can confidently hit in the fairway if i hit i softer (260-270). Nevertheless i’ve been having a few bad rounds lately and never managed to follow your safety guidelines through a whole course. So i decided to play a round with the driver and other long clubs at home. I’ve taken a bet with my friends to break 90 with this strategy and make sure i’d keep it up until the 18th. I will keep you updated of my results :)
Anyway thanks again for the time you spend writing these articles and their quality, it is greatly appreciated.
Thank you for the kind words! I hope the advice helps and that you win your bet!
After a few rounds of training before playing the bet round, i’m shooting twice 94. To be honest i’m not playing to my best levels and these 4 shots can be easily saved.
However i’m actually really surprised how easier the game is : i shot today my first ever 18 with no balls lost. I reckon this will become my training until i hit my long irons, hybrids and woods as solidly as i hit my 7i and above.
I’ll keep you updated about the big day.
Thanks again for this brilliant strategy, it’s really helping me figuring new concepts about golf.
That’s great to hear! Definitely keep practicing those longer clubs, I’m sure you’ll want to add them so you can work towards breaking 80 very soon!
Sorry for the delay into keeping you updated about the results :
I have not won my bet as i felt short by 1 single shot playing 91…
I took the rest of the clubs in my bag to figure out if distance was really not the issue into my poor scoring. I also worked hard on my short game and putting in the meanwhile.
This resulted in my best round of the season shooting a fairly solid 83 on a par 70.
It was definitely due to what you describe above such as not trying to reach complicated greens from 200+ yard with a hero shot. Or taking into account where to miss, drive with an iron to catch a fairway for sure, keeping the ball in play and playing safely.
Once again thank you so much for these articles. I guess we’ll be discussing from the breaking 80 article from now on.
Congrats! To go from trying to break 90 to an 83 is a HUGE leap! I look forward to hearing about your progress as you gain skill with the long clubs and move on to shooting in the 70’s.
Great tips! Gonna try these out, hopefully I will be breaking 90 in no time.
Pitch shots have improved dramatically and I’ve actually shot a 81 and a few under 90 rounds :)
To add to developing a good pitch I recommend clubbing up. Eg. If you can pitch the length with a SW grab a 9 and swing easy. More control and better % hit.
Keeping my driver, fairway and strong hybrid in the garage this weekend. First time out trying this theory which I like, but I am going to keep with my Cobra Baffler 4h as I feel confident hitting it straight.
Staying in/on decent playing lines is my aim. Cheers for the tips and insight into breaking 90. Done it once, but want to do it repeatedly!!
Good luck! Let us know how it goes.
What a fantastic article, I hit between 98 to 105 and reading this article I have realized it’s all about course management, I’m one of those that will aim as close to the green on my second shot even if there’s tree’s and hazards, I should chip it out and continue rather than hit 2/3 bad shots around trees. 2 putting is crucial to breaking 90, can’t wait to have a round trying to play a more cautious, thought out, controlled game of golf, hoping to improve on my last week’s score of 97
Thanks! I hope it helps on the course!
This has completely changed the way I look at my golf game. The simplicity of this plan is genius. I look forward to putting my long irons and driver to bed for a while in exchange for an 89. Thank you so much!
I’d shot mid 90s a few times and after reading this I went out and shot 90 exactly. I would’ve broken it if I didn’t 3 putt the last hole…… it’s all about the mind set I think. Cheers Matt.
Try going to the driving range and work to be able to hit 75% of your drives straight within 40 yards of center. I initially hit 30% about 150 yards. Now i hit about 70% straight about 200 yards.
Thanks for a very informative “Break 100” guide. I played my first comp (2-day tournament) on the weekend as a C-grader (31) and left the woods in the bag for the first time.
Following your strategies, I felt I was playing smart golf and was pleased to shoot both 100 and 97. This won the C-grade overall prize and now I look forward to implementing your “break 90” strategies hopefully with similar success over time.
Keep up the good work!
Congrats! Keep us informed about your improvement!
I love this post and have used it to success to break 100.
In fact, I’ve posted 93 twice off competition tees and come down 5 shots in 1 week entirely with this mentality.
I intend to keep plugging away at it until I break 90 now, which is just a matter of time I feel. I just need a little more accuracy and I’m there.
Definitely need to practice my 10-yard chips from thick/fluffy, edge of green stuff.. Too many silly shots which only go 2 feet :-)
The hardest part is resisting hitting longer clubs to go for the “Tiger Line”… so, I took your advice, and left everything under 5 iron at home.. and, while it felt a little strange, almost restrictive (especially if you didnt completely flush a shot). As i didnt have the “high risk” clubs in the bag, you simply cannot go for the hero shot… this forces you to hit a more sensible shot, which will probably go straight and then, in my case would ended up leaving a relatively straight forward short chip … more often than not, i would 1 putt these and still make bogey!
Great to hear! Good luck breaking 90!
My dad taught me this way and all through the 1970’s/80’s and early 90’s I played well enough to shoot in the 80’s all the time. Then dad died and for 20 years I did not play since I played with him and his navy buds every week, sometimes twice a week and it just was not the same.
Then my youngest son wanted to learn the game so I got out the old MacGregor CG1800’s and gave them to him and got myself a bargain set of used clubs as well. He did very well with them but has gone off on that tangent ‘I can find a set of clubs that will make my game great!” Not!
Your info is spot on, I do it today although being a grandfather, disabled and just beat the hell up, it’s more difficult.
Nevertheless you are spot on.
I carry a 5 wood, a 7 hybrid iron, a 9 iron a pitching wedge and a putter.
Can’t play like I used to but really enjoy seeing my youngest son enjoy something I did with my dad.
He just doesn’t understand or believe what you or I am/have told him.
Maybe one day he will.
Till then I just enjoy getting out with him and having a few laughs and hitting a few good shots.
Keep spreading the word, maybe one day it will catch on?
I have a slow swing speed.I can not hit a 7 iron 150 yards.Can hit 5 iron 140
On good day.Need to hit 3 wood to get to 150.I can use your method and a 3 wood and break 100 .Any suggestions on breaking 90 for golfers that can not hit a 7 iron 150 yards?
Yes, move up to a set of tee boxes where you are playing Par 4s that are at or under 300 yards. Tee box selection is about playing an appropriate distance for your swing speed, nothing else.
Great piece, shot an 89 with a few doubles in there, hit 5 pars using your methods, two coming at Par 3s where I have always struggled!
Congrats! Keep up the good play!
I tried the approach of leaving the driver behind for a while (probably 8 months or so). Unfortunately, my score did not really change because my iron play is pretty pathetic too. I hit a lot of fat and thin shots but usually manage to score in the mid-to-high 90s. The problem with this approach is that it leaves very little room for recovery if you happen to double bogey a hole (which is easy to do if you fat the occasional shot). If you hit a few more greens in regulation, the recovery from the double bogey becomes much easier because you have more potential opportunities for par.
I read your article, and I “forgot” my driver at home : )
Normally I`m a short shooter but a straight shooter, but with a driver in my hand, I “always” end up right. Now I was more relaxed from the tee, without the driver. My best round from the forward tee, on my homecourse, was until then 101 strokes. Leaving my driver home, and play more strategicly, I ended up with 94 strokes. Next round I played 92! Today….95 and was a bit dissapointed. That must be a good thing, isn`t it? Now…..anyone wants to buy a driver from me? : )
Your two posts about breaking 100 and 90 have really inspired me to put the driver down for a bit and focus on a good game plan that does not involve going for it every single time. I tried something like this for my last league match…one hole in particular. It was a long par 5, that has big water hazards on left and right sides of fairway (300+ range). Also, waste high grass (out of bounds) on both sides of fairway, and two sand traps about 220 right and left of fairway (off the tee). It’s my arch nemesis hole. I never do well on this hole. So, I hit my driver off the tee and I end up past the right side bunker in the rough. I normally would hit a 3 wood (which obviously ALWAYS seems to get me in trouble). So, this time I decided to hit 7 iron. My buddy asked, “what in the world did you just hit?” I said 7 iron. He laughed. Then I hit another 7 iron and was on the green. No water hazards, no out of bounds hazards and no sand. I two-putted and parred the hole. It was the best I’ve done on that hole. The moral to my story is that I mentally shut out the heroicness of hitting an incredible second shot. Stayed within myself and played smart. And, it worked! For that hole anyway…lol. I did end up shooting the best round I’ve ever shot at that particular course (low 90’s). So, I’m glad you wrote this because it makes me feel as if there’s hope to break into the 80’s.
That’s awesome! Keep up the good play!
IT WORKS !!
You are awesome Matt. I tried the strategy and very first day itself I scored 90. For the First time in last 4 years! And this in-spite of 1 quadruple and 1 triple (Rest all went as per plan. 11 bogey and 5 par.)
I mostly used only 3 clubs (5w, 7i and SW) + putter throughout the round. On a couple of occasions I had to use 9i and PW.
I resisted the temptation to use long clubs when distance was little more than 150 yards. I just stuck to the plan.
Thanks a ton for this article.
And the best part is – I feel Confident of repeating 90 anytime now.
Glad to hear it! Keep up the good play!
Thank you for this great article. I’ve been pushing scores just above 90 recently and had set myself the goal to break it this July. Your plan really helped me to get the right focus and ahead of my planned schedule I manged to break the barrier this weekend at my local club saturday competition. Played a 86 and won in my catagory! What helped me a lot was playing the holes with a realistic goal, not trying to push for scores that are hard to reach instead playing with the extra shot I had available to me in mind. That mindset really helped me play more concistent by taking the risk out. Playing this way, sticking to a plan I found also gave me a new enjoyment in the game, more mentally involved instead of just trying to ‘go for it’. Afcorse I was happy to win but what gave me even more joy was having gone out with a plan and executing it succesfully.
That’s awesome! Congrats on the win and keep up the great play.
Read this article last week. I’ve been bouncing around 93-95. One thing I took from this is stop trying to take chances. To try to come up with a strategy when playing instead of always trying to go for it. It really changed my mind state while playing. Today I took my medicine on some holes and put my ball back into play as suggested above. I only play a couple of times a week. My golf buddies were really impressed with my game as well and I told them about this article. Thanks, guys.
Hello, I find your article very interesting and I’m dying to break 90. I’d hardly call myself a fast learner, it took me 2-3 years of playing somewhat regularly to break 100. I’ve been playing mid to low 90s consistently for about a year now and I can’t seem to break 90. I’ll try anything and I want to try your method but my issue at my “home” course is there’s a creek that is strategically placed at about 130-160 yards from the white tees that runs through 6 holes on the course. It is a rather short course 4800 yards but the creek adds much difficulty. My question is since it would be impossible to hit an iron 150 yards on several of these holes what would you suggest?
If you lay up short of the creek off the tee, what length shots do you have into the greens?
Hey Matt thanks for the article. I did not use the plan strictly but have shot 88 and 86 the past two weeks. Each round had two blow-up holes. I even left my driver at home and felt very comfortable. Thanks again.
I have been a low 90’s shooter since Spring and have tried many methods to become a high 80’s shooter but this one seems to work the best! I have now shot an 89, 87 and 85 all in the past week, but I’m only 12 :)
This is great! I personally hit inconsistently with a driver so I tee off with 3 or 5 iron a lot of times. I’m very consistent inside of 150 yards. I am able to shoot in the low 90s- high 80s without having a driver in my bag. The short game wins.
This plan really works. I started playing golf 3 years ago, and was obsessed with getting more distance from my driver. I am not a long hitter, but even with my short drives, always end up out of position. I played a round with a uncle of mine, who couldn’t hit a ball more than 150, but shot in the 70s. All short game. I adopted this approach shortly after. I use a 6 iron, and hit it straight, about 160 yards. I work on my pitch shots with 3 wedges (PW, AW, and 58 degree); but use a nice 8 chip or short shot if I can. Putting is on and off, but have worked down to a 13 handicap. I play courses at 6000 yards, which are the whites or blues. I have played longer, but find this strategy works well. I really appreciate this article, and refer back to it alot. I enjoy beating my playing partners and doing it, with a old set of wilson irons, and they are hitting $300-$400 drivers.
How do you suggest handling par-4 doglegs beyond the reach of your 7I tee shot? If the geometry won’t give me a look at the green, would you suggest playing a short second shot that cuts the corner and then a long approach, or breaking the rule and hitting a longer club from the tee? Thanks!
A dramatic dogleg does make this tricky. I would suggest staying with the 7I off the tee unless a small change (6I or 5I) would get you to the corner.
7I-Lay up-Approach-2 putts is still a bogey.
Awesome article! This is exactly what I was looking for. I have been stuck shooting between 90 and 94 my last six rounds. I am really looking forward to applying this technique. Thanks for the help Matt.
Great article Matt. I’m usually around 100. I went out yesterday and left my driver and 3 wood home as you suggested. I followed the plan and shot a 92. I was very happy and with a little tweaking and practice expect to braek90 in a few weeks. It was only in the high 40 degree when we teed off so it took a few holes to warm up. playing 2 more times in the next week and hope to break that 90 mark. Thanks for a great game plan
That’s great! Good luck breaking 90.
Great information. I will check out the rest of your blog. Thanks for this post. I really like your point of view.
Matt! I loved your course strategies in this post I recently found!
I am typically a 95-90 golfer and yesterday fired off an 89!! I kept the “trouble” clubs in the bag and took bogies when I needed without feeling bad and went after getable holes for pars. Really enjoyed this article and thank you for posting!
I just stumbled on this article – great advice. In fact, I sort of came to the same conclusion on my own – I could hit my driver 190 – 230 yards, but probably half of the time, I sliced it wickedly. So, I backed down to a 3 wood. I can hit that straight between 180 and 200. But, in this case, probably only slice 1 out of 5 shots. This got me to the low 90s on a Robert Trent Jones course, the first time I tried it (today).
So, having read your article, I’m really interested in dropping down to a 6 iron, or 5 hybrid. Both are straight 8/10 times, and go around 150-170 yards. There is such a temptation to rip it. But, I learned that when I’m 230 yards away, I’m not getting to the green in one stroke anyway (with a driver or a 3), so why not just split the difference and use a PW twice. I
This is a great plan–if you can hit your 7i 150yds. What if your 6i doesn’t go 150, and your 5i does only most of the time? There really is a reason most of us 18+ handicappers carry so many woods/hybrids. My home course has at least five holes that require a forced carry–even from the forward tees–of 150+ yards. (It’s a desert course, so there is nowhere to lay up short of the carry.) Guess I’m condemned to continue shooting in the 90s or find another home course.
I generally subscribe to a relativistic philosophy about course design, but if there are 150+ yard carries from the forward tees, that’s bad/unplayable design.
I broke 90 for the first time yesterday with an 85. I took alot from your tips, like bogey is a good score. I layed up many times instead of going for it which resulted in a good round.
I know this article is pretty old, but I just read it and thought I’d give it a try. I am not the most avid golfer (maybe 2 or three times a month) but my score is always 91-95. I have shot in the 80s plenty, but never consistently. And not in awhile. So, I stuck to the game plan mentioned above. It wasn’t easy! My driver wanted to come out so bad! Even though I know it gets me into trouble more than it helps. I had two doubles and an 8 on par 4s, and STILL shot an 85! Couldn’t be more excited! Anybody that reads this should try it! It helped me!
That’s great to hear! Congrats!
There’s definitely some sage advice and lots of things that I see very high handicappers do on a consistent basis. Playing from the correct tees is paramount. It shouldn’t be based on age as much as skill level. If more high handicappers played from the forward tees then golf would be more enjoyable for them and pace of play would improve for everyone. Focusing on the short game is also a very good idea. My son hates practicing only short game but I remind him that the majority of strokes on his card are from 100 yards and in.
The concept of only hitting an iron off the tee is the only thing I’d disagree with in this post. I think most have a driver alternative in their bag that they play pretty well with and don’t hit OB – typically a high lofted wood or a hybrid. Getting a little more distance off the tee box would put less pressure on the mid iron game, which I think most players that can’t break 90 still struggle with.
Great tips.I am 74 and break 90 occasionally but am usually in the low 90’s.I usually miss being in the eighties because of poor putting or poor chips around the green fringe.Thats where practice in that area could change ones game!I couldn’t leave my driver at home though, love my driver,its part of golf!Tee shot bragging rights is fun!
Thanks for the great advice, Matt! It really should be attainable and I cannot wait to give it a go. I would definitely say that my weakness is the driver, it often can get me into trouble and then scrambling to get things back in line, so the advice of leaving it out of the bag is certainly a tip that I will follow.
Thank you for all of your great articles and I wish you all the best to you in 2022!
Hi Matt. At 69, I play from the most forward tees; my 5W off the tee is 170 and off the deck 150. I spray it with my 3– 4–5 hybrids off the tee and my 6i =140 off the tee. 7i =130 off tee & 120 from fairway. How would I play a 375-400 yard par 4 with my limited distance and erratic hybrid play?
Also, I do hit from the forward/gold tees. If I went any more forward I’d be on the women’s tees, and that I will not do.
I know you to be a regular reader and contributor, both of which I appreciate, so I say this with respect: tees are not gendered. The tees you play should be matched to your length and skill level.
If you’re hitting your 5W 170 off the tee, your driver is unlikely to be any longer than 200 yards. That means Driver-5W (which you put at 150 yards) only gets you 350 yards when both shots are hit well. If you’re playing more than one par 4 of this length per round, you’re too far back, you don’t have enough reasonable chances to make par.
I see two options for you. Move forward or modify your concept of par.
Very interesting article and seems reasonable but don’t agree with where you say in order to avoid using your driver, leave it at home. Unfortunately, I usually, once or twice a round, will end up behind a tree where my only reasonable option is to use a club that ensures that my punch shot under the tree, back into the fairway, does not go higher than a few feet and for me it’s the driver that has enough loft to clear the grass, etc. but keeps it below the lowest branch.
Matt…thank you! I began golfing last year as a range rat and I played my first round with a group yesterday and shot a 47 on 9 holes. It’s amazing what I have learnt to accomplish with my 7-iron. The day before I played 9 on an executive with just it and had the most enjoyable and educational round. Thank you and if I clean up a couple of holes [I had a stretch of +3 over 6 holes], 45 is easily and in my sights.
Fantastic! Thanks for sharing your experience and good luck breaking 45!
Hi Matt, I’ve returned to this article b/c I went about 4-5 months not playing. I’m in FL now, and slowly bringing my score down from the 90’s. Question: I have a lot of confidence in my 4H & 5H, and can hit the 5H accurately (as defined by you) 145-160, depending on quality of impact. Instead of an iron, is there any reason I can’t use that as my approach 150 club? I just turned 70 and my hybrids are comfortable. Jon
No reason not to use your 5H if you can hit it accurately to the distance you want.