How to break 80: top tips

Coaches and players unveil secrets to help lower your handicap

Charlie Lemay's picture
Fri, 25 Sep 2015

Is there an impermeable barrier between you and scores in the sophisticated 70s? These top tips from pros and coaches can help you squeeze under the magic mark.

How to break 90: top tips
How to break 100: top tips

David Aitchison, PGA Professional, Silvermere, Surrey

- Short game is king. At least 60-70% of your practice should be from 100 yards and in. You want to become deadly from this range, and become a better chipper, putter and bunker player. If you are shooting mid to low 80s you are quite good but you need this to get to the next step.

- Work on the mental side. A lot of golf is common sense and reading Bob Rotella’s book “Golf is Not a Game of Perfect” will help put a lot of that into perspective. We’ve all heard the mantra “one shot at a time”, but it is the hardest thing in the world. Search back through your experience, too, so that in the heat of the moment you are prepared.

- Put yourself under pressure in practice. Before a round, make time to play a nine-hole game on the short game area. Invent nine “holes”, a mix of easy, intermediate and hard ones, from long putts, to bunker shots, or a downhill chip over a bunker,and treat is as a par 18. The goal is to get down in two every time. Do it just once before you go out to play. It will help to improve your mental game.

Kristian Baker, Head of Instruction at Wentworth Club.

- Find the centre of the club. Buy some impact tape to be aware of hitting from the centre of the club face.

Work out your yardages. Find out your yardage using a radar system like Trakman.

- Play the percentages. On par threes, aim at the middle of the green not the flag. You'll have a putt for birdie, and it will massively increase your odds of staying out of trouble. 


Duncan Woolger, World of Golf Master Professional


- Mud on ball: Mud on one side of the ball will cause it to spin in such a way that it curves in the opposite direction. So if the mud is on the right, the ball will go to the left, and usually more than you might think. Compensate for this. The mud will also reduce backspin, so be careful with your yardage.


- Play a bunker shot out of thick rough: Use your sand wedge, play the ball off your front heel, and open the face. Hit behind the ball about three inches. The club will slide under the ball instead of digging into the dirt. Make a full swing, and let the club's loft and bounce send the ball high for a soft landing on the green.


- "Around the world" drill. Using one ball, work your way around the hole making 4 foot putts. Challenge yourself to focus on each putt and make five, 10, 20, or more in a row. The purpose of using only one ball is that it is like a real game situation, it makes you focus.


- 18 Holes of putting. Take one ball and drop it 20-50 feet from a hole. Putt until you make it.  Repeat 17 times from different locations and distances. The goal is to have 32 putts or less.


- Use alignment aids. Nearly every PGA Tour professional does, but few amateurs do.  When you’re at the range, lay down some clubs or alignment sticks to help you create good, consistent alignment.


- Mix block and random practice. This means that sometimes it’s good to hit 20 7-irons in a row, if you are working on something to do with your swing, but that shouldn’t be all you do.  Vary your practice time. Hit shots like you do on the course - hit an 8-iron, then a pitching wedge, then a 7-iron, then 3-wood, each with a full pre-shot routine.


Know your game. That means distances, ball flights, and where your bad shots go. Knowing these patterns is essential for good decision making on the course and vital to tell your coach so they can help you improve faster.



Jason Banting, PGA Advanced Professional, Silvermere, Surrey


- Short game, short game, and then more short game. In my opinion if you practiced your short game every day it still wouldn't be enough. When you go out and play a round of golf, a high percentage of your game will be played from 50 yards and in, so if you can make your short game not good, not great, but exceptional, your scores come tumbling down.



Carl Watts, former European Tour player and Mannings Heath pro


- Don't expect too much. The average distance from the pin from 100 yards on the PGA Tour is 20 feet. If you think you have to hit it to five feet every time, you're putting too much pressure on yourself.


- Create a game plan on yardages. On par-fours and fives, know your yardages so that you leave yourself a good number into the green. This may mean not always getting as close to the green as possible. Take into account the weather, slope of the hole, and other variable conditions.


- Work on your sand saves. Use the "gearing" system, which is like the gears on a car. Don't change the length of your swing for more or less distance, do it with tempo - slowly for a short shot, hard and fast for something longer. This helps you commit. Also, learn to play with different clubs out of the bunker, depending on the required shot.



Simon Dyson, six-time European Tour winner


- Copy the pros.Watch the professionals on television and copy what they do. Try things like drawing a line on your ball to help you get putts started in the right direction, use their pre-shot routines - there's a reason they do them.


- Read your putts better.Start reading putts as you approach the green. When on the putting surface, walk around to see your putt from different angles.


- Remember your good shots. We all hit bad shots. When hitting your next stroke, remember your good knocks - how did they feel, what position were you in? This will put you in a more positive mind frame.


- Practice short game. Stop bashing balls and head to the short game area. If you can get up and down from 30 yards every time, you'll break 80 no problem.



Guy Maxwell, director of golf at Assoufid, Marrakech, Morocco


- Check your distances. Measure accurately the distance you hit the ball with each club and know the distance of the shot to be played.


- Don't let your mind drift. Stay focused on the present, don’t think about shots past or what lies ahead.


- Maintain your rhythm. maintain a consistent swing speed and avoid technical thoughts.



Jonathan Yarwood, Tour coach and director of performance at Bishops Gate Golf Academy in Orlando, Florida


- Tidy things up. A 10% improvement in five areas adds up to a big whole. Identify five areas you can do this in.


- Solidify your putting stroke. Often the arms, wrists and shoulders work out of sync. Think of the forearms as a triangle. The shoulders control this triangle whilst the wrist remain firm and locked in. Try pinching your triceps against your ribcage and arching your left wrist slightly. This gives a "locked in" feel which encourages everything to work in harmony and will lead to more putts being holed.


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