How to Break 80: 9 Tips For Lower Scores
Shooting a 79 is so much better than an 80. While it’s only one stroke, it means a big difference to the majority of players.
If you’re like most golfers, chances are you want to learn how to break 80 as it’s one of the most common goals in this great sport. Breaking 80 means you’re playing much better than the average golfers and something you can wear as a badge of honor.
One of the reasons it’s so hard to shoot consistently in the 70s consistently is because there are so many aspects to golf; driving, irons, wedge, short game, putting, and the mental game. It’s confusing sometimes on what you should work on to finally move the needle into the 70s.
But I’m here to help and provide real tips that will lead to better scores… fast. You’ll find no mechanical tips here but instead, course management and short game principles that will have a big impact on your score.
How to Break 80 – 9 Tips for Lower Scores
Before getting into the nine best tips on how to break 80, let me first tell you to stop thinking about your score. If you go out to the golf course and say, “My goal is to break 80 today” you’re setting yourself up for failure.
Instead, your goal should be to play the best you can that day and see what the score adds up to after the round. Trying to shoot a specific score, whether it’s 79 or 99, adds too much pressure before the round even begins. This leads to overthinking, playing too cautiously, and oftentimes thinking about mechanics instead of playing golf.
While the goal of breaking 80 is a good one and something most golfers strive towards, I urge you to quit thinking about it. Play each shot with 100% focus and these tips to start shooting in the 70s.
1. Build a Pre-Shot Routine
To start breaking 80 on a regular basis, you need a solid pre-shot routine. It’s a part of the game that not enough golfers focus on and instead, only work on mechanics on the driving range. To break 80, you need to feel confident over as many shots as possible and your pre-shot routine will help tremendously.
Helen Alfredsson described the importance of a pre-shot routine in the book, A Good Swing Is Hard to Find. As she stated, “A pre-shot routine helps you build a cocoon around yourself. This is the mysterious zone that athletes refer to longingly. But there’s nothing mysterious about it.”
Your pre-shot routine will help you block out negative thoughts, stay calm, and commit to each shot during the round. The trick is to not only create a routine but also practice it on the driving range.
Ideally, you want to get to the point where your routine is like clockwork and takes the same amount of time with each swing. When your routine is automatic, it will ease those on-course jitters and free you up to swing your best.
2. Play One Shot Shape
It’s fun to hit all kinds of shots on the driving range – the high cut, the low draw, and the straight high shot. But if you try to shape shots like you’re Tiger Woods on the golf course, I can almost guarantee it won’t lead to better scores. Trying to hit draws, then cuts, then straight shots requires extremely consistent ball striking and something even the pros struggle with.
Sure, there are guys like Justin Thomas and Tiger Woods who can hit any shot at any given time. But most pros hit one stock shot 80-90% of the time, despite where the pin is located or how the fairway is shaped.
Hitting one shot, whether it’s a draw or a cut, is the key to breaking 80 because you won’t be thinking about mechanics on the course. Instead, you can walk up to any tee box or any approach shot and pick your target based on your trusty cut or draw.
For example, I play a power fade and since going to one stock shot, it’s so much easier to pick a target and swing with confidence. Not to mention, I know my main miss and can plan accordingly to not short side myself and make my misses better.
While there are times you might need to go against your shot because of wind, a tree, or something else, it shouldn’t happen often.
3. Hit More Drivers
If you want to learn how to break 80, I suggest working on three clubs more than anything else; driver, lob or sand wedge, and putter. These three clubs are the most used during the round and will have a huge impact on your total score.
The driver specifically is something you need to master in your quest to break 80.
Too many amateurs try to “lay back” and “play it safe” off the tee. This sounds good in theory but usually leaves much longer approach shots that make it hard to get on the green in regulation. While some holes you won’t need a driver, I think you should hit it more often than not.
Don’t think you need to hit 12 or 13 fairways during the round to score well either. The PGA Tour fairways in regulation in the 2021 season was a little over 60%, so if you can hit about 8/14 fairways, you’re averaging the same as the best players in the world.
I think most good players would agree that it’s easier to make par or better from 120 in the rough vs. 150 in the fairway on most holes. Plus, when you do find the short grass, it’ll be a shorter club into the green and easier to hit it close.
Not to mention, hitting a driver is more fun too!
4. Play Conservatively on Par 3s
Statistically speaking, par 3s are the most challenging type of holes according to the PGA Tour. So if the best players in the world struggle on these short holes, you shouldn’t try to play aggressively and outperform them.
Instead, I challenge you to play more conservatively and make hitting the green the number one priority. This is even more important on longer par 3s where you have anything more than a 7-iron.
If you do make bogey, don’t beat yourself up and focus on the next hole.
5. Stop Aiming at the Flag
Aiming at the flag is fun but on most shots it’s the wrong play. Because more often than not, it leads to being short sided and tough par saves. Which can lead to bogeys and double bogeys that make shooting in the 70s much more difficult.
Unless you have a gap wedge or less in your hand, don’t aim at the flag.
While it might feel conservative, it’s the best play and the stats from the PGA Tour show that. Finding the green and being 20-25 feet away is better than off the green, short sided.
Play the percentages and find the middle part of the green more often to make a score in the 70s inevitable.
6. Work on Wedge Game
If you’re nearly breaking 80 already, it’s usually short game issues holding you back. Spend as much time as you can working on your short game so you can save shots from inside 100 yards.
Specifically, work on these three shots:
- Bump and run – This shot should become so automatic you feel like you’re going to make it when you miss the green.
- Sand shots – You want to have a stock sand shot so you’re confident getting out of the bunkers in one shot. Nothing fancy, just a go-to shot so you’re out on the green.
- 50-75 yards – This is a tough shot that good players struggle with but the more you practice, the easier it will get. Try out different ball positions, wedges, and backswing lengths to see what works best.
Related: The Ultimate Golf Wedge Buying Guide
7. Make Practice Hard
Practice doesn’t set us up for success on the golf course a lot of times. Think about it, how many times do you have a perfectly flat lie in the fairway without bunkers, water, or deep rough and the perfect distance on the approach? Chances are, it only happens a few times per round.
Usually, during the round you have to navigate:
- Tough lies near the green
- Plugged bunker shots (or fried eggs)
- Wind, cold, or heat which affect total distance
- Uneven lies in both the fairway and the rough
- Obstacles and hazards in your way (tree limbs, water, etc.)
The point is, make practice more challenging so you’re more prepared for the golf course. Here are a few ways to make practice more realistic to the course:
- Hit shots from divots on the range
- Throw 10 balls around the chipping green and play them as they lie
- Work on knockdown shots to deal with wind and imperfect distances
This will help you sharpen your game so much more than hitting from perfect lies on the driving range.
8. Keep Swinging Aggressively
How many times have you been close to shooting in the 70s, only to screw it up in the last few holes? Don’t worry, you’re not alone as we’ve all been there before… In general, I’ve found this comes from two main reasons:
- Trying to guide the ball off the tee
- Worrying too much about your score instead of continue doing what got you there
First, stop trying to guide the ball on the last few holes to “protect your score.” Your best golf shots are a result of swinging freely and letting it go, not from trying to slow down and move like a robot. Stick with your routine, pick your target, and swing like you have all day to keep hitting great shots.
Also, quit thinking about your score and give 100% focus to each shot instead. Thinking about the closing stretch of holes will only give you more anxiety and usually lead to timid, cautious swings.
Play loose, stay present, and keep swinging like you did earlier in the round.
Related: 5 Tips to Increase Swing Speed
9. Practice Short Putts
Becoming automatic from short range on the greens is one of the most important keys to breaking 80. Here’s what Dr. Bob Rotella, a top sports psychologist said in his book, Putting Out Your Mind.
“If you’re solid from, say, two to five feet, it makes it so much easier to make your longer putts. You can stroke them more confidently when you know that if by some misfortune you do miss, you’re a cinch to sink the next one.”
So many golfers think that shooting in the 70s is about making 10,15, or 20+ footers. But the statistics show that even the pros don’t hole many putts from long range.
In reality, you should spend most of your time working on the short 2-5 foot putts in practice. When you do this, you will get comfortable seeing the ball go in the hole more often than not. This practice routine will lead to more confidence in your short game and likely long game too.
Think about it, whenever you have one of those “on days” with putting, the rest of the game gets easier. If you miss the green, you don’t worry about it because you have confidence in your putting. Then, when you do hit the greens in regulation, you’re more confident rolling your birdie putt.
Finally, making short putts allows you to keep momentum going in the round. There’s nothing more satisfying than a difficult up-and-down to keep your par/birdie streak going to play your best golf.
Bonus Tip: Play More Golf
One reason so many golfers struggle on the last few holes is fatigue. To beat fatigue, play more golf so you have the stamina to finish strong.
Phil Mickelson discussed this in a Golf.com article saying, “I might try to play 36, 45 holes in a day and try to focus on each shot so that when I go out and play 18, it doesn’t feel like it’s that much. I’m trying to use my mind like a muscle and just expand it.”
Phil found playing more than 18 holes helped his stamina but also his ability to focus on effectively visualizing golf shots. Play extra holes when you can to improve your focus and keep swinging strong late in the round.
Top Questions About Breaking 80 in Golf
How hard is it to break 80?
To break 80, you need to shoot seven over par for most golf courses, assuming it’s a par 72. This is the equivalent of a 3-5 handicap (remember handicaps take your best scores, not your average scores).
The same USGA report states that less than 10% of men carry a handicap that is that low. Which means a little over 10% of players who carry a handicap can regularly break 80.
Needless to say, it’s not an easy feat and quite an accomplishment for most golfers.
How long does it take to break 80?
How long it takes to shoot in the 70s differs from player to player. Some guys break 80 within a few years of picking up a golf club. While others might take 5-10 (or more) years before shooting in the 70s.
The biggest factors that contribute to breaking 80 include:
- Golf equipment
- Getting lessons
- Short game practice
- How much you can practice full swing or play regularly
While there are a ton of factors to consider, the biggest is to make sure you set a clear goal to break 80. Having a goal is the first step in making it happen and will keep you motivated to keep grinding on your game.
What should I practice to break 80?
To break 80, you want to focus on these three areas:
- Mental game. So much of this sport has nothing to do with your full swing and mechanics. A lot of times it’s the mental chatter that really matters. Work on your mental game by improving your self-talk, not getting overly mad at bad shots, and having realistic expectations of your game.
- Pre-shot routine. The best amateurs and professionals all have one thing in common – a pre-shot ritual. A good routine will help you calm yourself down under pressure and focus on your target. Create a routine on the driving range and practice it regularly to limit negative thinking and gain confidence on each shot.
- Short game. As mentioned in this article, your chips, pitches, and wedge game needs to be sharp to shoot in the 70s. The closer you can get to the hole, the higher the odds of making more putts. Don’t forget to hone your putting routine too.
Wrapping Up the Best Tips for Breaking 80
I’m confident that these tips will help you start shooting in the 70s sooner rather than later. As I’ve mentioned throughout the post, it’s vital to stay present and not think about your score. If someone in your group adds up your front nine or scores until 18 tee, tell them you don’t want to know.
Because it doesn’t matter! All that matters is your 18 hole total, not what you did on the first nine or the first 17 holes. This will help you stay focused until the final putt drops on the 18th green.
What’s your best tip for breaking 80?
Let us know in the comments below.