Only a tiny percentage of golfers will ever break par, but breaking 90 on the golf course is a much more achievable goal for the average golfer.
But you might be going about it the wrong way and your habits could be preventing you from being able to break 90 consistently.
The good news is that if you are currently shooting in the low 90s, then you can probably accomplish that goal without any major swing changes.
Here are some things you can do to help you break through that scoring barrier.
1. Play Away From Danger
If you remember nothing else from this list, this is the one that will make the biggest difference in your game.
You need to assess the degree of danger for various hazards and aim away from them.
This might actually mean aiming at the rough for some tee shots if there is water or dense trees on the other side of the fairway.
Hitting the rough on one side of the fairway will result in far fewer lost shots than putting yourself in a hazard or behind a tree on the other side of the fairway. So pick where you want to miss and aim accordingly.
2. Stop Laying Up
This one goes against decades of advice to the contrary, but hear me out…
In recent years, there has been a lot more statistical data available on golfers of all skill levels, not just PGA Tour pros.
One of the more surprising things this has shown is that hitting the ball closer to the green results in lower scores on average across all skill levels as opposed to laying up to a “comfortable” yardage.
There are a few reasons for this.
First, left and right misses are minimized the closer you are to the target. The same club opened the same number of degrees at impact will miss the target by more on a 100 yard shot than a 50-yard shot.
Second, while it might make you feel uncomfortable, you probably don’t miss your target on that “in-between” yardage as much as you think you do. Across all skill levels, players definitively get the ball closer to the target from 75 or 50 yards than they do from 100 yards.
So stop trying to lay up to that 100 yeard marker and just get it closer to the green if there’s no danger in the way.
3. Play To Avoid Double Bogeys Or Higher
Your shot strategy should start with the question, “What do I have to do on this hole to avoid a double bogey” instead of thinking about making par.
If you made bogey on every hole of a par 72 course, that’s a 90. All you need from there is one long putt per round to drop and you have your 89.
This sort of goes with #1 above. Both are ways to look at the course and your strategy to avoid the big numbers and give yourself chances to make par.
4. Aim For The Back Of Most Greens
It’s rare that you will hit an iron shot farther than your ideal shot, but they fall short all the time. So use that to your advantage.
Aside from the dreaded thin wedge, missing the sweet spot of the club will result in a shorter shot. As a 90s shooter, you aren’t hitting the sweet spot every time (or most of the time for that matter).
So when you are planning your yardage, stop going for the pin distance and don’t even aim for the middle of the green. Shoot for the back of the green and when the normal variance in your swing happens, you’ll have the whole green to work with.
Exception: When there is bad trouble behind the green, then you can play the middle yardage to avoid the trouble.
5. Develop A Solid Short Game
A solid short game isn’t going to make up for bad drives and approach shots, but it can save you a few pars here and there. Improving your short game skills can easily lower your score by 3-5 strokes.
If you want to take a deep dive into improving your short game then check out my Short Game Training Program.
But if you just want the basics of short game strategy, here are the two main priorities you should focus on…
Priority #1 – Get The Ball On The Green
Missing the green on a short game shot (less than 50 yards) is often going to cost you an extra stroke on the hole because you’ll have left yourself with another short shot that you may or may not get up and down in two, but once you’re on the green you’ll get down in two putts or less the majority of the time.
Priority #2 – Leave Yourself Makeable Putts
When you’re even closer to the green, your priority is to get as close to the hole as possible. Proximity is what you should be focusing on here, rather than leaving it on one side of the hole (unless there is a severe slope on the green near the hole).
6. Get Out Of Trouble In One Shot
Here’s another strategy for avoiding those double bogeys.
When you are in trouble, like a deep fairway bunker or stuck behind a tree…instead of trying to get to the green in regulation, look for the best and most reliable way to get out of trouble in ONE SHOT.
This strategy will put you back in a position to hit the green and two-putt for a bogey.
Attempting the “hero” shot will result in a double-bogey or worse far more often than it will save your par. So take those big numbers out of play and just focus on getting out of trouble.
7. Putting Speed Is The Key To Avoiding 3-Putts
If you get the speed correct, you’ll usually have an easy second putt even if you missed the line.
That’s because we naturally tend to be pretty close on reading left to right break in the green, so even when we get it wrong, it’s not too bad.
But speed misses tend to be much more severe. So when you are practicing your putting, focus the majority of your time on getting good at judging speed.
Here are some putting drills to work on your speed control.
8. Play The Right Tees
Here’s an easy one.
Stop playing the back tees if you’re shooting in the 90s.
Of course the effect this has on your score may vary based on your course, but in general, 90s shooters really have no business on the back tees. Wait until you can comfortably shoot in the low 80s before even thinking about moving up a tee box.
This may seem like cheating, but in reality, playing the tees that aren’t designed for your skill level has a disproportionate effect on your score.
You’ll often shoot a score much higher than the handicap differential between the two tee boxes. That’s because playing a tee box that is even just a little too long forces you to hit clubs on approach shots that don’t really match the design of the hole.
Some golf greens are designed for short irons while others may be larger and less sloped because most players will be hitting long irons or woods into them. When you end up hitting a long iron into a “short iron green” you have very little chance of keeping it on the green even with a perfect shot.
So play the right tees and you’ll have more fun as well as score better.
9. Play With Better Players
This one is more of a long-term tip.
Try to play with golfers that are better than you. For example, if you want to break 90, then play with golfers that can consistently shoot in the 80s.
It’s hard to overstate the value in seeing exactly how a better player manages their way around the course. They often see it very differently than you do.
By playing with golfers like this, you can’t help but pick up some good habits. It can be anything from course strategy to shot selection or even the swing itself.
This will have a big benefit to your game in the long run.
10. Use A Consistent Pre-Shot Routine
Consistency in your game starts with having a consistent pre-shot routine.
Other than keeping it short, it really doesn’t matter what your routine is but it should accomplish two things, reinforce any key swing thoughts and help you change gears into a more reactionary mindset.
The pre-shot routine is sort of the switching point from consciously thinking about the shot and analyzing it to letting your athletic ability take over and simply reacting to the ball.
Having this ability to start your pre-shot routine and let it simply flow into your swing will successfully take away a lot of the conscious noise that gets in the way of a good swing.
So figure out what works for you and stick with it.
11. Know Your Average Yardages (Not Maximum)
Remember that one time when you hit a 215 yard 7 iron…downhill, with a 25 mph wind behind you?
Well, forget it.
You need to know what your average distances are with each club, not your best ever distance. There are two great ways to do this.
The best way is to use a shot tracker during your rounds. My favorite for the last two years has been the Arccos Caddie. Check out my full review of the Arccos Caddie here.
A device like this will track every shot during a round and calculate your average distances with each club over many rounds. Arccos has a helpful feature called “Smart Distance” that ignores outliers that might skew the numbers.
The second option is to use a launch monitor when you practice. A launch monitor will give you fairly accurate distances (and other stats) for each shot. Some will keep track of those distances for you and give you averages.
Be careful though, not all launch monitors are accurate. Check out my breakdown of the best launch monitors here.
12. Use The Right Clubs For Your Skill Level
If you’re attempting to break 90, then put down those blades and pick up a set of clubs that work for your skill level.
Golf technology in all clubs has come a long way in the last few decades…so take advantage of it.
Most drivers on the market will be fairly forgiving and well suited for a 90s shooter, but for some reason, far too many amateur golfers insist on playing irons that are making the game much more difficult than it should be.
13. Warm Up Properly Before Your Round
Warming up at the range before a round is about more than getting loose.
Your swing can have slight changes from round to round. Some days you might be fading it consistently and other days you may have a draw working. Why? Because the golf gods have a terrible sense of humor.
So figuring out what your ball flight looks like before the round can make a big difference. using the warm-up range ensures that you have some idea of what is going to happen when you step up to the first tee.
14. Practice With Purpose
Do you get to the range, hit a large buck of balls one after the other, and then head home?
That’s exercise, not practicing golf (and not even a good workout).
Go to the practice range with a specific plan and something you want to work on. It could be a swing change or it could just be hitting targets and varying your clubs.
Whatever you do, have a reason to do it and keep track of how well you do it, that way you’ll know if you are improving over time.
15. Stop Trying To Shape Shots
Even PGA Tour pros aren’t shaping shots left and right to fit the shape of the hole. The vast majority of them have one stock shot shape and they play that shape on every shot unless they absolutely have to curve it the other way to get around a tree or something.
If an instructor tells you to change the shot shape depending on what side of the green the flag is on…find a new instructor!
That is terrible advice!
It’s hard enough to hit the same shot shape consistently. Changing on every shot is a recipe for disaster.
16. Improve Your Fitness
No matter what your non-golfer friends say, golf requires some degree of physical fitness to play well.
If you find yourself getting tired at the end of the round or missing out on breaking 90 because you can’t quite keep it going through all 18 holes, then maybe your fitness needs some work.
Also, getting stronger can easily add more distance without any swing changes and every yard closer you get to the hole on your drives has the possibility of lowering your score.
17. Play More
This might seem obvious, but get out there and play.
Practicing at the range is helpful (see #14), but nothing beats more playing experience. The more you play, the more comfortable you’ll get on the course and the more varying situations you’ll encounter and get used to.
18. Learn Some Green Reading Techniques
Green reading is a skill that can be learned.
I think the best way to do that is a combination of doing a little reading about the various techniques out there and just spending time on the practice green getting used to looking at how the green slopes and trying to predict where the ball will go.
If you’d like a little more detail on this, check out my article on how to read a green.
19. Manage Your Expectations
You are not going to hit every shot perfectly. Not even Tiger in his prime did that.
So stop getting angry or frustrated when you do hit a bad shot. That type of energy is just going to ruin more shots.
Instead, when you hit a bad shot, focus on #6 above.
20. Track Your Stats With Purpose
Use some method to track your stats.
Knowing what you’re doing well and what you’re struggling with is essential to improving.
I use the Arccos Shot tracker that I mentioned above to track all my stats. It gives me a “strokes gained” breakdown for each aspect of my game: driving, approach, short game, and putting.