Get your game under 80

By RODNEY PAGE, Times Staff Writer
Published January 31, 2008

Breaking 100 is the goal of most beginning golfers. Breaking 90 is the goal for bogey golfers. But breaking 80 is the goal for a small percentage of golfers who just about have it figured out.

Saying you can shoot in the 70s is saying you have game. To do that, all phases have to be covered. The drives need to be straight, approach shots accurate, putts on the mark. In the event of an errant shot, the golfer who shoots in the 70s can salvage the hole with a good chip or sand shot.

For tips on how to break 80, we solicited the advice of Belleair Country Club director of golf Jim Slattery. He grew up in Clearwater and attended Florida State.

He has been at Belleair since 1985. In 2005, he was selected by Golf Digest as one of the top 20 teaching professionals in Florida. Here are his suggestions for golfers ready to break into the 70s: 


Shorten your game

This is more of a mental game than anything. If you typically tee off from the blue tees at your home course, play some rounds from the whites. If you play from the whites, move up to the golds, etc.

The key is to get closer to the hole on tee shots and approach shots, which should lower your score. Post a few 70s, and Slattery believes it will prepare you to do the same from the longer tees.

"I would recommend you play from the shorter tees," he said. "This will get you to mentally accept scores in the 70s. Once that is achieved, then you can move back to your typical yardage."

Preshot routine

To borrow a line from Caddyshack, you must "be the ball" in order to shoot in the 70s. That means visualizing the shot before it's hit. That is true for a tee shot, fairway shot or putt.

Take a few seconds to line it up, look where you want it to go and take a few practice swings. Make this your routine, and it should shave a few shots.

"Many mid- to high-80s shooters are sloppy with their preshot routine," Slattery said. "These particular golfers must develop a routine where they visualize, or see the shot properly, ensure proper alignment, stay relaxed and feel the motion required so that they can trust their swing."

Know your pitch shots

Most teaching pros will tell you that shots are saved or lost around and on the green. The most important part of the game for players wanting to break 80 is from 100 yards in.

Slattery suggests practicing chipping, pitching and lob shots. A chip requires a swing more like putting. A pitch requires club-speed control, and a lob shot requires touch around the green.

"Many 12-15 handicappers strike the ball well from tee to green, but are not quite as sharp around the greens," Slattery said. "There are really only three different strokes used around the green: chipping stroke, pitching stroke and lob, or flop, stroke. The advice I give is to have golfers learn and practice each of these strokes. Your score will definitely drop a few, if not many strokes."

The dreaded 5-footers

As last week's pro, Vince Buelk, noted, golfers should try to get longer putts to within 5 feet of the hole. Making those second putts is the difference between shooting in the 90s and shooting in the 80s.

Slattery says making the short putts are crucial to lowering scores. He suggests practicing indoors on a flat surface to ensure a repetitive smooth stroke.

"You can practice indoors when it's raining or cold," he said. "Use the lines on the carpet, or a yardstick to ensure a simple, repeating stroke."

Final thought

"Any individual with even less-than-average natural physical ability should be able to break 80 by following these keys and by being persistent towards goal achievement," Slattery said.

Rodney Page can be reached at page@tampabay.com or 727 893-8810.