Breaking 90 in golf is no mean feat. According to the National Golf Foundation data, a mere 26% of all golfers shoot below 90 consistently in a full 18-hole round. In comparison, 45% regularly post scores above 100.
If you're still trying to shoot a score in the 80s, or perhaps if you're trying to do so more regularly, developing an ability to limit your mistakes will take you a long way.
With that in mind, we've listed some tips below to help you finally go sub-90.
Don't Neglect Your Warm Up
A warm-up before a round of golf is generally advised, and when you're arriving at the course looking to post a career low score it's imperative.
Before hitting any golf balls, go through a 5-minute stretching routine to help loosen yourself up and prevent injury. From here, take 20-25 minutes to hit a few balls on the range and roll a few putts on the practice green.
You don't need to overdo it, but the confidence you'll gain from that half-hour will stand you in good stead in the early part of your round.
Select a Reliable Driving Club
You should aim to find a golf club to use from the tee which can get you into the short grass and away from trouble consistently. For some, it might be driver. For others, it could be a hybrid, or maybe even an iron. Distance is desirable, but accuracy is king.
The confidence you will gain from finding more fairways will build the foundation for a solid round. If you turn a par-4 into a three-shotter to the green, it's no great drama.
All we need is 17 bogeys and one par to break 90.
Employ Your Pre-Shot Routine
Now you've chosen your driving club of choice, your tee shot awaits. You'll likely feel those first-tee nerves, and that's OK. The world's best golfers experience nerves in the same situation.
The key is not to let anxiety take over and, importantly, to employ your pre-shot routine as you would on any other hole.
Abandon any thoughts of 'swinging out of your shoes' and striping one down the middle. Instead, try to focus on making a smooth, controlled golf swing, and you'll have given yourself a great chance of hitting it solid.
Now you're on your way.
Use the Par-5 Strategy
Using this strategy, as the title suggests, you view every hole as a par-5. If you shoot a double bogey on a par-3, you're even par for the hole. If you score bogey or better, you have a buffer to take to trickier holes throughout the remainder of the round.
All you need to do is finish -1 after treating every hole as a par-5, and you've broken 90.
This new approach trains you to turn your back on golf shots you've no business taking on - the miracle shot, if you will - and encourages more conservative golf.
Just because you have hit the green on a long par-4 from 220 yards in the past doesn't mean you should be going for it this time. To break 90, you'll need to play the percentages - and they're heavily weighted against you in this scenario. Take the stress out of the situation, lay up to your favourite yardage and play for bogey.
Take Your Medicine
If you can focus on getting the ball back in play above all else, you'll limit the number of times you're scrambling to rescue 'your par'. Should you find yourself in the rough and blocked out, the sensible play will generally be the right play.
Make sure you can hit a basic punch shot when you need to escape trouble and get it back in the fairway. Don't try to be a hero. It rarely goes well.
Play Your Shape
In an ideal world, you would be able to work the golf ball both ways on-demand. For the majority of golfers, though, that isn't the reality. We will likely hit the ball right more than left, or vice versa.
One of the keys to breaking 90 and playing good golf generally is to embrace your own shot shape.
If you know that nine times out of 10, your golf ball slices to the right, align yourself with a target down the left side of the fairway and let the ball come round and find the short grass.
Of course, you'll arrow one dead straight every now and again, so be sure not to aim too far left.
Chip Low to Go Low
When you're close to the green, you may be tempted to lift a lofted club and try to land the ball close to the flag, but now we're back to this idea of playing percentage golf.
If you're trying to break 90, much of your focus should be on avoiding high-tariff golf shots. The high-flighted chip shot is a risky play. It requires a high skill level and is challenging to execute on-demand.
You'll get a more predictable strike and a better outcome on off-centre hits when you switch to a lower-lofted club, such as a short iron. Simply pick a landing zone closer to you, and allow for the ball to roll out.
If you're not used to this shot, a bit of pre-round practice will help you get a feel for how much each club rolls out.
Get the Speed of the Greens
When you find a green-in-regulation, you'll often be left with a lengthy putt, so a big part of your success in breaking 90 will lie in your ability to avoid three-putts.
Before you play, spend 10-15 minutes on the practice green working on your putting stroke and try to get a feel for the speed on lag putts.
Your primary focus should be on pace control. Don't overly concern yourself with the line. If you can get the ball to 'die' close to the hole with a degree of regularity and walk away with a two-putt, you're primed for a good score.
We have a couple of drills that can help you nail your pace control.
Play with Better Players
Here's a more general tip, and it's quite a simple message: if you want to play like a lower handicap golfer, you need to play WITH lower handicap golfers.
It can be hugely beneficial to watch how a golfer who shoots in the low 80s manages their round. You'll likely pick up tips on course management, shot selection or perhaps even a few golden nuggets on the golf swing itself.
Consider Golf Lessons
If you've been giving these tips due consideration and still find yourself falling just short of breaking 90, perhaps you would benefit from some one-on-one golf lessons.
It's possible to break 100 by accepting certain deficiencies in your golf swing and working with them, but as you edge closer to breaking 90, the margins for error get much smaller. If you can't smooth out the rough edges on your own, check in with your local golf pro.
Having an expert cast their eye over your golf swing can help you eliminate any bad habits that you've picked up along the way. They can help you better understand those mistakes and implement a plan of action to improve your game and lower your scores.