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Breaking 100-90-80 : A monthly guide to the scoring basics

Golf Digest, Nov, 2001 by Bob Rotella, Mike Stachura

That “Breaking 100-90-80” headline up there bugs me. I’m all for having goals, but when average players think about shooting a specific number, they can lose sight of the building blocks that make that low number pos-sible. You improve by focusing on the moment, trusting your pre-shot routine and staying solid in the short game. Remember, golf is a game of scoring; it is not a game of adding up your score.

Play as if you care–just not about score

Maybe we’d all play better if we got our scorecards at the end of our rounds instead of the beginning. Thinking about your score rarely helps you execute shots. Instead, you have to learn to play as if you don’t care about your score. That’s different from playing as if you don’t care.

Get excited and focused–that’s fun. But focus on preparing to make a solid swing, not on how it affects your score. Leave the card in the locker room. Focus properly and you’ll have no trouble remembering every shot after the round, because there will be fewer of them.

Breaking 100

Play to strengths

Even 100-shooters can find things they do well. Two easy ones are choosing the safe play and learning to hit your pitching wedge. Get only marginally competent in both of these areas, and there’s almost no way you won’t be able to break 100.

Do you really want to break 100?

A lot of people say they’d like to break 100, but if you watched them play, you’d probably say, “Your goal can’t be to break 100, because you’re hitting your driver off every tee and you haven’t hit the fairway yet. So your real goal must be to hit driver on every hole.” You can’t strategize based on having a dream day with your most difficult club. Be honest. You’ve probably never even had a practice session where you’ve hit 14 good drivers in a row. Why all of a sudden are you going to do it today on the golf course? So keep practicing with the driver, but take a lofted wood or iron off the tee and start each hole in the fairway. You’ll score lower–that’s your goal.

To break 100, be like Tiger Tiger is one of the greatest drivers in the game, but watch how few drivers he hits. So if a great driver isn’t always grabbing the big stick, maybe you shouldn’t, either.

How to shoot 88

By changing your strategy and sticking to it, you might score surprisingly low. If you’re trying to break 100, have a strategy (see below) where if you make every putt, you could shoot 88, but if you make nothing special, you still shoot 98.

Always play it safe

If I told a tour pro he’d never see his loved ones again unless he broke 100, you can bet he’d play conservatively. So should you.

Can you score from 100 yards?

See that 100-yard plate? Make it your office. From here, you should be able to get into the hole in no more than three shots. That means scoring around bogey on every hole–and that means breaking 100. Of course, to do this, you have to check your ego at the first tee. Unless you have a 9-iron or wedge in your hands, lay up to the 100-yard marker, even if that means hitting only a 30- or 40-yard shot. If you can’t play 3-shot golf from here, go work on your wedge game first. Stick with that strategy until you can shoot around 90. Think this is silly? Well, only about as silly as shooting 93 instead of 106. Besides, the good work with your wedge that helped you break 100 will later help you break 90 and 80.

Breaking 90

Short answers

Once you start shooting at greens with your middle and long irons, you’ll need to get used to missing those greens. In fact, you’ll be missing a number of greens for the rest of your career. A thriving short game saves you strokes and lets you swing a little easier back in the fairway.

Your short game hides mistakes

Once you get comfortable playing bogey golf with your wedge and it’s time to start shooting at greens from farther away (presuming you’ve been working on your middle irons on the range), be prepared to score worse. Why? Because playing the 100-yard shot, you probably haven’t been missing all that many greens. But with middle and longer irons, you’re going to miss a lot of greens. So get better at your chipping, pitching and bunker play. Devote some serious practice time to these three aspects of your short game, because they can save more strokes than any 280-yard drive.

To break 90, fall in love

Be totally in love with the way you choose to play. Don’t worry about whether you’re going to hit a green in regulation. Just get the ball in the hole your way.

Learning to think by the numbers

Having the right mental approach can be affected by a lot of little things. For instance, it might be better to think of “shooting 85,” instead of concentrating on “breaking 90.”

Don’t try to be Seve

Play out of mistakes wisely. Instead of a Seve Ballesteros shot, just get in the fairway. Posting no big numbers is crucial to breaking 90.

Get in the habit of making short putts

Short putts are no different from tee shots or fairway bunker shots. They all count the same toward your score–and they are all more successfully executed the more confidence you have in doing them well. Confidence comes with an unconscious commitment to the process, along with repeated success. So practice short putts. See if you can make three in a row at three feet, four feet, five feet and six feet. If you miss, start all over. It gets you in the habit of feeling pressure and making a lot of putts. That’s a good combination.

Breaking 80

See only good

Players trying to break 80 tend to get caught up in any slight mistake they make, because they feel they can’t make that many before their chance is gone for the day. You have to keep your thoughts under control. Stay in the present. Your only thoughts should be “target” and “routine.”

Don’t let the score control your game

Every so often you hear about a tour player coming down the stretch not knowing where he stands on the leader board. A lot of people get annoyed by this. I don’t. If a guy’s been playing well all day not looking at leader boards, why should he change his routine? The same applies to you. Looking at your scorecard rarely helps you stay in the present, which is the best way to execute under pressure. Often, someone hoping to break 80 adds up his score after nine holes and then decides whether he’s going to have a chance today. How would doing that help him hit a good shot on the 10th tee? Your goal ought to be, “Here is my routine, and I’m going to do this all day long on every shot until I run out of holes.”

To break 80, do like Duval

To score, you have to be patient. David Duval’s final round at the British Open wasn’t a high-wire act–just fairways, greens and made putts. We all should strive to be so boring.

Develop amnesia

Players trying to break 80 do fine mentally until they make a mistake. They either get down or start taking risks (thinking that’s a positive move). Instead, stay with your game. If it helps, just look at a double as two bogeys. Then, move on.

Like a good marriage

Low scoring comes from having peace of mind. It’s like marriage. It works best if you don’t grade it every second. Golf should be the same way.

Stay with your routine and focus on your target

Some people think I make too big a deal over preshot routine. They also think it slows the game down. Neither is true. One, a preshot routine should not be slow; two, I don’t think you can make too big a deal of it. Developing an effortlessly consistent preshot routine has two major benefits: First, it turns off your conscious mind, which, if active, disrupts your ability to hit a solid shot. Second, it gets you focused on the target and nothing else.


One response

  1. spanky

    I really like the part about thinking of a double ad just 2 bogey’s.

    April 12, 2011 at 7:06 pm

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