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How to Break 80 on the Golf Course

Even though the name of this site is “breaking eighty” this is the one post I never thought I’d write.

Why?

Because during the rare occasions I have broken 80 since starting back in 2013 (it’s happened 4 times now), I never felt like I was a good enough golfer to actually give advice on how to do it.

I just chalked it up to a fluke.

However last week, that changed a bit when I played the best round of my life.

Note: I’m just using iphone/Instagram photos for this post. At some point I’ll do a proper review of Witch Hollow and include better photos.

The Setup

Last week the weather in Portland was unseasonably beautiful. It was in the mid 70s and perfectly sunny all week, after what’s been a pretty off season.

My home course of Pumpkin Ridge had been pretty wet all winter, so after hearing it was finally drying out I knew I had to go get a round in.

I booked a 7:30 tee time last Thursday and from the moment I began the drive out to the course I knew it would be a good day.

Anytime you have the entire course to yourself on a day like that, you can’t help but consider yourself lucky.

First tracks. Could not ask for a better way to start my day.

A photo posted by Sean Ogle (@breakingeighty) on

I started out playing well parring the first 2 holes, and couldn’t remove the grin from my face even after I followed it up with a few bogeys.

I played the front 9 with a solid, yet unremarkable 40 and didn’t think much about it.

I bogeyed 10, 11, and 12 and despite some disappointment was pretty happy I hadn’t had any true blowup holes.

I played 13-17 even and I ended up finding myself standing on the 18th tee needing a par for my first 79 ever on a par 72 course.

I proceeded to live instagram the whole thing.

The tee shot: Striped down the middle.

18th tee. Need a par to break 80 for the first time in a par 72 course…

A photo posted by Sean Ogle (@breakingeighty) on

Striped it. 230 out. Go for it or lay up?? Stay tuned…

A photo posted by Sean Ogle (@breakingeighty) on

The approach: Decided to go for it with my 3 wood. Dropped it to 4 feet.

Holy crap. I now have this for an eagle. Hopefully I can manage the 3 putt from 4 feet.

A photo posted by Sean Ogle (@breakingeighty) on

The Putt: Made the putt for my 2nd eagle ever and my best round ever of a 77.

Every other round where I’ve broken 80 I felt like there were some flukes. The first time at Bandon Trails I chipped in for birdie from 40 yards on one hole.

The two subsequent times at Crooked River Ranch and Skamania Lodge were on extremely short courses that were pretty quirky.

This time, while I was playing from the whites, it was on a championship course that no one would really describe as “easy”.

And while I still think there was some luck involved, I did have a few very specific takeaways about what made this round different from every other round – and are things I’ll take with me in my future rounds as I try and repeat these results as often as possible.

My Advice for How to Break 80

Be Conscious of Tempo

I have a huge problem with a slice. More rounds than not it will cost me at least 3-5 strokes either directly through penalties or having to punch out.

Thinking back to when that happens, it’s usually the times I’m not conscious of my tempo and swinging too quickly.

For some reason during this round, at every tee shot I was very aware of my tempo and actively working to slow down my backswing.

It worked.

I didn’t lose any balls, and most of my shots that missed the fairway, did so by less than 4 feet.

Bogeys Aren’t Bad

During the front 9 of this round I was going back and forth between pars and bogeys. I kept hitting the wrong side of the green (which is death at Witch Hollow) and leaving myself with ugly 3 putts (4 to be exact).

But what I realized is I could make 7 bogeys and still break eighty if everything else is a par.

So bogeys aren’t bad. It’s the doubles and triples that will absolutely kill you.

By focusing on trying to make pars and bogeys, you’ll inevitably start making some birdies as well.

I shot a 77 with 8 bogeys and 4 3 putts. Sure that eagle was a bit lucky, but this realization was a profound one for me.

Don’t go for the stupid shots trying to save your par, take your bogey and do better on the next hole.

Scorecard from my round. Lots of bogeys in there!

Scorecard from my round. Lots of bogeys in there!

The Formula for Breaking Eighty

Last summer I was playing golf back east with my friend David, and he told me the secret to breaking 80 – and it’s always stuck in my mind.

It’s actually really simple, you only need to do 3 things to break 80:

  • Play the par 5s at par or better
  • No penalties
  • No 3 putts

Obviously this is much more difficult in practice, but if you focus on just trying to achieve those things it suddenly can make things seem more attainable.

In my round I played the par 5s in one under.

Thinking about tempo on my drives kept me from having any penalties

And well, my putting was pretty bad with 4 3 putts, and 36 total putts.

That said, I did drain most of my shorter putts which helped a lot.

Frame of Mind Makes a Huge Difference

As I mentioned, from the moment I got in the car to drive out to the course I was in a great mood. The sun was out, it was warm, the course was finally in good shape and I was just loving life.

It was one of those days were I could have shot a 100 and it wouldn’t have impacted my mood.

Because I was in this grateful frame of mind, the little things didn’t bother me as much. I 3 putted from 15 feet on the third hole – and didn’t stress, I just strolled over to the next hole thinking about how amazing it was out.

I did the same thing on 8, and again on 10. Yet I couldn’t be bothered.

It can be really easy to let one bad shot totally ruin your mood or get in your head, but if you’re mindful of how lucky you are to be on the course at all – you could end up saving yourself quite a few strokes.

Obviously this can be more difficult to do in practice, but next time you’re on the course just think about all of the things you could be doing that are much worse than looping 18 holes.

Final Thoughts on Breaking Eighty

Since this happened, I’ve had half a dozen or so people ask me what I did to improve my game and break 80.

The reality is I haven’t done many of the things you’d expect.

I rarely go to the range or practice putting, I just play a lot – usually over 100 rounds a year.

I haven’t taken lessons, and my swing is still quite ugly by just about anyone’s standards.

What I have done though is just be more mindful of my game and the shots I’m hitting.

We’ve all hit long drives, dropped approaches to 2 feet, or made sidewinding 30 foot putts at some point in our lives.

So you most likely have the skills to do it.

But, by being mindful of the things that hurt your scores the most on the golf course and working to temper those, you’ll have a much better shot of consistently scoring better.

I still have days where I’ll shoot 100! Yet usually those days are ones I can specifically look back and say that I didn’t do any of the things mentioned in this post.

Have you broken 80? What are your tips for doing so?




There are 9 comments

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  1. Ashley

    WHoo hoo!!! Way to go, Sean! Do you remember when we played together how I mentioned that a “breakthrough” round is all you need for that snowball to pick up some speed! Hopefully, now you can carry that confidence to your future rounds…Since you can do 77, 79 is no longer such a big deal.

  2. mlamb

    congrats on the 77. my $0.02 on how to do it consistently:

    – ball in play off of the tee. distance should be the second priority.
    – don’t need to aim for the pin; it’s much easier to target the most accessible part of the green
    – accept that you will 3-putt. sometimes trying to avoid this can actually make it worse
    – play your round 3 holes at a time. helps manage the mental aspect

  3. Orson

    Well done! I came across your blog a while ago, and I’m glad to hear you’ve hit your goal a few times now. I look forward to following in your footsteps.

    Questionable move on 18, but I’m glad it paid off for you.

  4. Rahul

    Hey mate..Well done on breaking 80! That’s where I want to be at someday..soon! I’m actually, in a lot of ways, completely opposite to you. I took up golf seriously this year for the first time in my 42 years on this planet 🙂 But instead of going to a course, I got custom made clubs and then headed to the range and have been taking lessons from a coach. I started in Jan, it’s June now and in that time-frame, I have not played a single round of golf 🙂 Yes..I know. But I am a perfectionist at heart and what always bugged me when I did play golf sporadically before this year was that I didn’t know where I was going wrong, why I was able to hit a decent drive but then top my fairway wood or clunk my approach shot. (We won’t even mention bunkers..shudder!)

    Now, I feel I know so much more. The coach (over 6 sessions so far) has fixed my grip, shown me correct posture, correct address, correct swing plane + path and worked on increasing the tempo on my swing. I am still making mistakes on the range during practice BUT I now know what’s causing it and feel like I can correct it straight away. I’m also reading up a lot of golf instructions and also watching a zillion golf instructional videos to help me understand all the variables I can face when I do play a round and how to address them.

    Could I achieve all this by simply playing a 100 rounds a year? Most likely. But my “inner perfectionist nerd” would feel cheated 🙂

    I have, however, decided to get out there on the course over the next few months and play at least once or twice a week in conjunction with my golf coaching and driving range practice sessions.

  5. Jesse

    Hey Sean, well I have been following you for about a month or two, love reading what you have to say. After I read this post I finally broke 80. Shot a 78!! I played the par 5’s 1 over, but I didn’t have any three putts, but I did have a chance for eagle on 18 which is a par five. I hit driver off the tee and for my second shot hit a perfect three wood, it landed 15 feet away from the hole, but rolled off the back of the green and then I had a chip for eagle that about went it, had to take a birdie instead but I still had a smile on my face!!

  6. JM Warren

    Refreshing post! In the span of 3 days, I shot an 86 (w/ 5 penalty strokes) and a 108 (albeit, at a more difficult course). The big difference was all in the 5 inches between my ears. control, level-headed and positivity vs. tenseness, frustration and anger. Been reading “Every Shot Must Have A Purpose”, and when I apply the principles of disassociating from bad shots and being confident and decisive, the game sure is more fun.


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