Throughout a player’s golf development, they will pass through certain levels of play. In the beginning, things are simpler, as many players just simply want to navigate the golf course as best they can and not look foolish doing it. But then they make a magical par and all of a sudden it’s all about keeping score! Then the real climb begins as they work to find a way to lower their scores and handicap. During this process there are a ton of different variables that contribute to their improvement or slow them down. Let’s take a look at some of the main things you need to do if you are stuck at your level and can’t make a change in your scores.
Most golfers see this level as their first big hurdle. Nothing feels better than writing your score down and not needing 3 numbers to do it! At this point in your development you need to focus on a few things. First, eliminate penalty strokes in your game. Yes, that’s certainly easy to type and much harder to do, but it’s critical. Most golfers who can’t break 100 typically hit too many balls in the water or out of bounds, and those strokes add up. In order to accomplish this you must be willing to put away your ego and lay up occasionally, even off of the tee. If there is a par-4 with water all down the right side and you slice the ball all of the time, then take a mid-iron off of the tee and put it in play and take 3 to get on the green. It’s better than hitting your third shot after hitting it in the water! Play conservative and trust your game plan. In addition, you must learn to stop hitting terrible chips and three-putting. Many players at this level can actually get close to the green in regulation, but take 4 or 5 shots to get into the hole. This wasting of shots will take your score and send it through the roof, so learn to be great at the short game first and the scores will improve.
You have now learned to stop three-putting and can chip it on the green in one shot, as well as eliminated most penalty strokes out of your game. Now you need to learn to control your golf ball a bit more effectively. At this level it is important to be able to drive the ball well on each and every hole to give yourself the best chance to get on the green in regulation. Most players struggling to break 90 may only hit 3 greens in regulation during a round. This won’t change unless you are playing from the fairway as much as possible. So learn to hit a driver or 3 wood off of the tee and get it in play as much as you can on the golf course. Also, your short game now has to get better than it was before; those chips that were 15’ away now need to get 7’ away, and the par putts need to go in occasionally. So to break 90 often you need to be in play a lot off of the tee with reasonable distance, take the trouble out of play on the golf course, and make a few more par putts. Take away the double bogeys and watch your scores drop!
Most golfers will consider this level the “holy grail” of golf. To shoot in the 70’s has a certain cachet to it that lets other golfers know that you can play the game pretty well. But to reach this level of play you need to have a very solid overall game. Tee shots must be in play, but you now need to be striking the ball more solidly and controlling your distances better. Hitting it in the area of the green is no longer acceptable; you need to hit 8-10 greens a round. But in order to do this it is really important to have a repeating swing and a predictable ball flight. Having the ball go both ways is not going to help you break 80. Instead, the ball needs to curve one way on most shots to eliminate one side of the golf course. Standing over a shot, you must be confident that the ball will not go in a certain direction, so working on finding your “stock” shot is critical here. Distance is certainly helpful to break 80, but that will come to some degree with more flush contact as your swing evolves. Of course, the common them here is short game. Now you will be hitting more greens than before, which also means a lot of long putts for birdie, so working on lag putting from long distances is very important. Many players get better at this point in their games, but start to lose shots on three-putts because they have never had this many long putts in a round. So make sure that you work on long putts and learn to judge speed and line effectively so you don’t give away the advantage you gained by hitting the green in regulation.
Watching your scores go down takes time and commitment to your game and working with an instructor to find and fix your weaknesses. Take the time to write down your goals for the season, what you think your weaknesses are, and what you do well. Then formulate a plan that attacks those areas with a scoring goal in mind. Stick to the process and enjoy the journey and you will see results.