How to Break 90 in Golf

March 5, 2009

Most people who play golf have never broken 90 in their golf careers.


This is obviously a major goal for these folks and a source of major frustration…


When I talk and play with these golfers, there is one common observation that I can make about their games that is creating a serious mental barrier to their progress… and that is an intense desire for “more distance”.


The other common observation I can make about their game is that they are passionate about golf and will do whatever it takes to improve.


The golf industry thrives on these desires:


“buy this driver and add 10 extra yards to your game”

“buy this ball for extra distance”

“Learn to swing like the pros”

“Turn more for more distance”


Whenever you look in golf magazines or watch infomercials on TV these headlines are everywhere….its no wonder that this distance message has rubbed off on the struggling golfer.


Yet, when you do the math on what distances you require to break 90 off the standard white tees on the typical golf course, the numbers will surprise you…


Understand the Numbers

Golf is all about numbers and making smart decisions. If you can understand the numbers that are necessary to meet your scoring goals, you will begin to make smarter decisions that will quickly lead to lower scores.


I say this because it is this lack of understanding of the numbers involved in the game that leads golfers to make bad decisions both on and off the course:


“I need this new $600 driver to get my drives to 230 yards….that will make a huge difference to may scores”


“If only I could get my irons to go further, what a difference that would make”


Yet, talk to these same people 6 months after their purchase and many of them have made little difference to their scores…..


This push for distance is a huge mental barrier. Those golfers who progress faster with their games are those who have discovered how to overcome this mental obstruction.


What they need to do is make mental shift away from distance, to one of “consistency”…


If you can make that change, you will find your game will accelerate rapidly to lower scoring.


That process begins by knowing your numbers….


Understand the Distance Numbers

Golf is all about making smart decisions around distance. If you can understand the numbers that are necessary to meet your scoring goals, you will begin to make smarter decisions that will quickly lead to lower scores.


I say this because it is this lack of understanding of the distances involved in the game that lead golfers to make bad decisions both on and off the course:


“I need this new $600 driver to get my drives to 230 yards…that will make a huge difference to may scores”


“If only I could get my irons to go further, what a difference that would make”


Yet, talk to these same people 6 months after their purchase and many of them have made little difference to their scores…


This push for distance is a huge mental barrier. Those golfers who progress faster with their games are those who have discovered how to overcome this mental obstruction.


Make this mental shift, and you will find your game will accelerate rapidly to lower scoring.


That process begins by knowing your numbers…


Average distances to Break 90


Let’s assume you play on an average length course of 6,100 yards. I am going to throw some average distance requirements per stroke out there to break 90 that are based on different putting abilities…


45 putts/round – average distance/stroke to shoot 89             =          138 yards

40 putts/round – average distance/stroke to shoot 89             =          124 yards

36 putts/round – average distance/stroke to shoot 89             =          115 yards

(average distance = 6,100 ÷ (89 – # of putts/round)  )


For ladies on a 5,500 yard course the yardages are less:


45 putts/round – average distance/stroke to shoot 89             =          128 yards

40 putts/round – average distance/stroke to shoot 89             =          115 yards

36 putts/round – average distance/stroke to shoot 89             =          104 yards


As you look at these numbers, even some absolute beginners using a set of old clubs can reach these distances!


So where is the need for distance?


If you are any good at putting you could probably get round the course in 89 using only a 9/8 iron and a putter…


“Ah, but that is not how the game is played…” some might say.


That is certainly true. But then I would ask “how should you play the game and what are you trying to achieve?”…


Change of Thinking

In showing you these distances and prodding these questions I am not trying to be critical of those who play in the 90’s or above…


I am simply trying to help you clarify the numbers to encourage you think a little more about how you may be approaching your own game.


Of course I would not suggest you go around the course with nothing but an 8 iron and a putter. That is silly. However, these numbers clearly suggest that you do not need a 230 yard drive either.


So what can we learn from just studying these distances?


1. For starters, if you are able to average a 2 putt on every green for your round, you remove a huge distance requirement from your game.


This then should be your top priority for breaking 90…practice putting at home to get your putting average down to 36 or less per round.


2. The second observation that jumps out at us is that distance is not an issue if you are able to execute every shot cleanly during the round without a miss hit or duff shot.


Swing consistency becomes key, not distance.


Here is how your thinking and mental approach to your swing has to change…


It does not matter how far you hit the ball, but it is vital that you hit every shot with some level of consistency.


Consistency comes with a lot of practice, but it can also come from making smart decisions with your shot making…


Operating at the Top End of your Swing Capability Curve

Your judgment calls on distance and club selection can seriously affect your swing consistency…this is all a “mental process” and has nothing to do with your physical capability.


Let me show you an example…


Let’s say that you are faced with an approach shot to the green of 140 yards. What are your choices?


Well, on the range you know that you can reach 140 yards with an 8 iron….in most cases you might have a go with that decision.


How confident do you feel at executing that shot?  What are the likely outcomes if you do not pull it off?


Here is what I observe with many high handicap golfers when making decisions of this nature…


9 times out of 10 they are always short of the green. This is because of either a complete miss hit duff shot or they did not catch the ball cleanly at contact.


On top of this the accuracy of the shot is off as well.


The reason for this is they are swinging at the high end of their swing capability curve trying to execute a “full turn”, because that is what they have read, or been told will give them the “most distance”.


If they adopt this same mental approach to swinging with a full turn during their practice sessions with all their clubs, their decisions on distance capability with each club is going to be influenced by the results they achieve on the range.


The shots they remember are the shots they hit well that go a mile, but do they remember how far they hit the balls that did not go so well?….probably not.


Whenever you try to run a “system” at the high of it capability it is going to experience some failure.


The same can be said of your golf swing. Try to swing with a full turn on every shot, and you will experience failure more times than not.


That is because with a full backswing extension you are more likely to experience:

  • Balance problems
  • Breakdowns of the left arm
  • Excessive tension in the arms that leads to a prerelease of the hands from the top of the swing and poor timing

 to mention but a few…


OK. Now I want you to consider your chances of reaching the same 140 yards with either a 7 iron or even a 6 iron. Are you likely to be short with either of these two clubs?


The answer is, “no, only if I miss hit the shot completely. If anything I may overshoot the target…”


Choose a Club Down for better Swing Consistency

Here is how you can immediately improve your swing consistency on the course…


I want you to ask yourself why you put yourself under distance pressure for this 140 yard shot?


Why do you need to operate your swing at the high end of your capability curve and push the extremes of your swing limits with an 8 iron, knowing that you are likely to experience a miss hit?


This is totally unnecessary. You have the option of selecting down a club that you know you will reach the distance with a much higher degree of certainty.


This same thought process can be applied to every swing decision you make with every iron you have in the bag.


The only time you reach a point where you have to make a full turn to increase distance comes with clubs at the low end such as a 3 iron, 3 wood and driver where you no longer have the option to choose down a club.


Choosing to club down for all of your distance decisions changes your mental approach from one of going for distance, to one of going for consistency.


The first reaction you have when you make this decision is worrying about over shooting the target.


This thought process forces you to shorten your backswing so that you take some “heat” out of the shot.


When you shorten your backswing:


  • Your balance is better and your swing is much easier to time.
  • With improved balance also comes improved accuracy.

So, club down and shorten your backswing for improved consistency…


Set a scoring goal for each hole

You can reduce the pressure to swing for distance from your swing even further by accurately knowing what distance you need to achieve your scoring goal for every hole to break 90.


On a par 72 hole course you need to score 17 over par in order to achieve an 89.


You can break that down to a scoring goal for every hole of a 1 over par, only needing a single par on any one hole somewhere during the round.


Now let’s look at how knowing this information affects your decision making and club selection on the course…


For those of you who feel you need to add more distance to your game but have yet to break 90, I want to try and dispel this mental obstacle once and for all with this following example…


Let’s put you under a pressure for distance scenario on the course by imaging you are standing on the tee of a 410 yard par 4. Does this intimidate you? You bet!


“I need to have a long drive so that I can give myself every chance of getting on or near the green with my approach shot…”


“It is holes like this that bring out the need for that 230 yard drive! Even with that drive I still have 180 yards to go with the next shot.”


How do you rate your chances of pulling off consistent shots under this amount of pressure?


Not very high is my guess…”


Before you reach into the bag for the heavy artillery and psych yourself up for a monster drive, step back for a minute and think about what you are trying to achieve on this hole.


You are not trying to play for par, you are trying to play for a one over par because that is your goal for this hole.


Come to think of it, even a 5 handicap golfer does not need to go for par on this hole because holes of this nature usually have a handicap index of 5 or less!


Knowing you have 5 strokes to meet your goal, how can you best use those strokes to make each shot as simple as possible?


The trick lies in working your way back from the green to the tee, not from the tee to the green in your club selection…


Work backwards from the green for shot simplicity and improved consistency


First of all, I am going to assume you took note of my first observation and have practiced your putting at home and feel pretty good at averaging 2 putts per green.


That leaves you with 3 shots with which to work your way back to the tee to cover the 410 yards.


The first decision you need to make is at what distance and with what club can I feel confident at getting anywhere on the green 9 times out of 10, remembering that there is no need to push your swing to it’s high limits for distance.


Let’s say that a 65 yard pitching wedge comes to mind.


Ok, now let’s work back a little further and decide what would be a reasonable shot that you feel pretty confident at getting you within that 65 yard approach shot range even from light rough.


Maybe a 160 yard iron or hybrid club.


What’s left for your drive….185 yards, which for some of you may be a 3 wood distance.


What this exercise does for you is reduce the pressure to swing for distance completely from every shot tee to green. You will be able to swing well within your distance capability…especially if you also club down.


Your chances of executing this strategy with reasonable consistency compared to the “conventional approach” is going to be much higher because you are not swinging at the high end of your swing range.


On top of this, if you successfully land your third shot on the green, you give yourself a one putt chance of a par!


Now compare that opportunity to the “conventional approach” where you would probably be satisfied with a one or even a two over par….


Adding the Extra Shot and Shorten your Approach Shot


The one over scoring goal on every hole but one to break 90 allows you to design your tee to green play with an “extra shot” compared to a regulation strategy.


That extra shot on all the par 4’s and par 5’s reduces the distance you require for every shot considerably.


Knowing this allows you to back off and swing well within your distance capability by clubbing down.


The extra shot also allows you to select a shorter approach shot on every hole which improves your changes of getting on the green.


This helps you avoid many wasted short game shots from around the green which are tremendous shot consumers for high handicap players who have not developed a short game.


Breaking 90

As I have shown you in this article, knowing the distance numbers to break 90 takes away the pressure to operate at the high end of your swing capability on every shot


Making smart club choices by clubbing down, also eliminates this distance pressure.


The strategy of adding the extra shot from tee to green to shorten your approach shots on every hole, not only reduces wasted shots from around the green, you also give yourself more par opportunities for a one putt par.


The desire to add more distance to your game can be a major mental barrier that is preventing you from lowering your scores and reaching your goal of 89.


Make the mental shift to thinking more on how to improve consistency by swinging well within you distance capabilities and your scores will drop significantly in a short period of time…


Good luck and good scoring!




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How to Break 90 Video Presentation Series

This three part video presentation series for both men and women focus on the key areas of creating a golf strategy and practice routines that will quickly help you break 90. The course also comes with a 50 page e-book covering: 

  • A 5 step process on how to create a golf strategy to break 90 or for any other scoring goal.
  • How to eliminate 3-4 wasted strokes from your round immediately.
  • How to improve your swing consistency with smart decision making on the course.
  • How to create effective practice plans to develop the specific skills you need to break 90 if you have limited time to practice.


Breaking the Distance Barrier

The thought process that I have just taken you through in this article is taken from my book “Breaking the Distance Barrier”.


One of the key themes of this book is to look closely at how your mental approach to the game affects the way you swing.


The book also covers the mechanics and physics of the golf swing showing you how important it is to swing well within your “natural swing” capability which is governed by the flexibility range of your golf muscles.



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Golf Stance and Alignment – how to create a perfect golf setup for every shot

October 14, 2008


Ask any professional golfer what single aspect of their game has more bearing on the outcome of their shot, and in most cases they will say “setup”…


Some of the best players in the game have even gone as far as saying that setup accounts for as much as 50% of the success behind the shot.


Think about this for a moment….your golf setup is not tied in any way to your “physical skill” of being able to hit a golf ball.


You may think you have the worst golf swing in the world…but you have the ability to learn how to perform a “perfect golf setup”…even if you are an absolute beginner.


I like to use the analogy of learning how to fly an airplane to describe your golf setup….


One of the most critical aspects behind producing a safe flight is to conduct a thorough “pre-flight” check….make sure everything is set and correct with the aircraft on the ground…once you are in the air it is too late to be conducting any checks.


Your golf setup is no different…make sure everything about your setup is correct before the shot….once you are into your swing there is very little you can do to make split second adjustments.


Anyone can learn how to conduct a preflight check of an airplane, even if they have no idea how to fly…the check is not related in any way to flying “skill”.


Likewise a golf pre-shot setup routine has nothing to do with your “golf skill”…


One other important aspect is that once you have developed a rock steady routine, you do not need much practice to create a perfect setup every time…even after long lay offs from your game.


Golf Set Up

You should break your golf setup into two separate routines.


The first is an “Alignment Routine”…..this sets you body position correctly with the target.


The second is a “Stance Routine”…this sets your feet, hands and body posture correct to the ball.


The routines I am about to cover are taken from my e-book “Breaking the Distance Barrier”.


You may also find these routines described in a free three part video series on my online instruction website Highlander School of Golf 


Ball Flight Laws

In order to understand the critical aspects of your alignment routine let me ask you….how often do you align yourself to the target using your feet?….


Nine out of ten golfers use their feet to align themselves to the target…so do many pros.


Yet, your feet have zero impact on the flight path of the ball at the point of contact with the club head!…


You may find this surprising but, there are only two elements of your swing that impact ball flight direction at impact….and that is:


– Club face alignment.


– Club head swing path… which is determined by your shoulder alignment.


Another aspect to remember that impacts ball flight path is ball spin…


          a straight flight path will result if the club face is “square” to the club head swing path.

          a slice will result if the club face is “open” relative to the club head swing path.

          a hook will result if the club head is “closed” relative to the club head swing path.


Now if your feet have no bearing on the flight path of the ball, it makes sense to focus your alignment routine on the two aspects that do….clubface alignment and shoulder alignment.


Let’s take a look…


Visual Distortion

If the alignment process only involves aligning the clubface and your shoulders, why do so many golfers have trouble with this process?


The one single aspect that “screws up” every golfer’s ability to line themselves up to the target is “visual distortion”….


Visual distortion results from the focus of your “dominant eye” being hindered by the bridge of your nose as you are trying to focus on a distant target.


This will happen when you are aligning yourself to the target in the “stance position”, having to look over your left shoulder at the target (case for right handers – opposite shoulder for lefties).  


Check it out for yourself by closing your left eye as you look over your left shoulder to see the effect ….do you see your nose getting in the way of your focus?


If you are right eye dominant this will hinder your right eye focus and your visual judgment because you are using your left eye to carry out this process.


To avoid this effect, you need to align yourself with a closer target that allows both eyes to be equally focused in the process.


You also need to set up “visual reference lines” that allow you accurately set how you are aligning the key elements of your swing.


I recommend three visual reference lines:


– Visual reference line for club face alignment.

– Visual reference line for shoulder alignment.

– Visual reference line for accurate ball positioning and hand positioning in the stance.   


Shoulder Alignment

Pick a point between the target and your clubface against which to align yourself for the shot. The point you pick should be no more than 10 feet in front of you…this way your dominant eye will not experience any focus distortion and both eyes can be equally focused on the point.


Your shoulders should be aligned “parallel’ with an imaginary line drawn from this point to your clubface. This means your shoulders will be aiming slightly “left” of the target if they are correctly aligned….right of the target for lefties.


Clubface Alignment

Aim the clubface at the reference point.


Better yet for a more precise method of lining your clubface make use of the manufactures name on the ball.


Before you even step up to the ball, aim the ball name at your target/reference….now when you place the club head up to the ball you have a precise visual reference point against which to square the club face.



As you go through your alignment routine keep your feet together. This way you can be sure that your feet are going to be square with your shoulders.


The other reason for this is that you create a visual reference line against which to position your feet relative to the ball that is perpendicular to your shoulders….that reference line is a line that splits your feet to the ball.


The reason for that reference line again comes back to eliminating any effect due to visual distortion….


The visual reference line allows you to accurately set your feet and hands in the correct position relative to the ball:


          Left foot forward and right foot straight back so that the ball position is slightly left of center.

          Hands slightly ahead of the ball.


Your posture should be set to ensure optimum swing balance:

          Not too close to the ball that you “fall backwards” on the downswing.

          Not too far that it causes you to “stand up” on the backswing.

          Weight equally balanced between each foot.

          Knees slightly flexed to allow lower body freedom that makes your trunk turn easier.

          Trunk tilted slightly forward with your arms hanging straight down so that your hands are about a hand  width away from your legs.

Why using your feet to align yourself to the target causes setup problems?


Without setting a reference line to position the ball in a precise location in the stance that you know is perpendicular to your shoulders as I have just described, there is a danger of incorrectly positioning the ball relative to your feet in the stance.


Again the reason for this comes down to visual distortion setting your feet positions….a topic I will cover in a follow up blog.


This in turn impacts your shoulder alignment:


          position your ball and hands too far forward…opens the shoulders

          position the ball and your hands too far back…closes the shoulders


Try it for yourself while looking at a mirror to see how your shoulders move open and closed with differening ball positions…


The most common fault that I see with my students is that they incorrectly position the ball and their hands too far forward in the stance which opens the shoulders.


This causes the ball to start left at first because it releases in the direction of your shoulders…then it curves rights since this motion creates a clockwise spin on the ball.


If this is happening with your shots you will benefit from following the alignment routine I just described that uses visual reference lines and focuses on the club face and shoulders before setting your feet….


I have also produced three video presentations to help you and I have collected several other videos from Youtube that you can view on my “Squidoo lens” that walk will you through a complete alignment and stance routine that will guarantee a perfect setup every time…..several of which have been produced by Jack Nicklaus.


Enjoy the material and good luck with your game…




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