March 22

Find Your Golf Big Gain to Break Scoring Barriers

Golf Lessons



It should come as no surprise that many of us want to get better at golf.  The surprise, at least for me, is what people consider to be their ideal golf goal.  Some want to somehow go from shooting 100 to breaking 80, seemingly overnight.  What you need to do is take a step back and really figure out what an ideal goal can be, and find your golf “Big Gain” to achieve said goal.

Finding your “Big Gain” in golf is different for everyone.  Let’s break it down by levels:

How to Pinpoint Your Golf “Big Gain” to Break 100

For the 100+ shooter, to find their “Big Gain” they need to work in increments.  Maybe it’s 5 strokes, or maybe it’s 10 strokes.  A “Big Gain” could be something like hitting more greens or holing less putts.  That should easily be attainable, with a little work.

My personal favorite way to do it, the way that really helped me, is to mark up statistics on your scorecard.  It’s pretty simple:

  • the score for the hole goes in the middle of the scorecard, like normal
  • If you hit the fairway, put an “O” in the upper-left hand corner of the box for that hole.  If you miss the fairway, put an “X” there.  If it’s a par 3, don’t put anything there.
  • If you hit the green in regulation, put an “O” in the upper-right hand corner of the box for that hole.  If you miss, but an “X” instead.
  • Write the number of putts it took to finish the hole in the lower-right hand corner.
  • Somewhere at the bottom of the card, write an “S:” for “sand shots” and an “SS:” for “Sand Saves”.  For every sand shot, you put a slash next to the “S:”.  If you one-putt from there, put a slash next to the “SS:”.
  • Also at the bottom, write “C/P:”, which stands for “chip and pitch shots”.  Near that write “CS:” (CPS and PS also work), which stands for “chip and pitch shot saves”.  The routines similar to the Sand/Sand Saves section.

It should look a little like this:

Scorecard from:

GolfLogix is one app that will do this for you.  I like it, but if I’m playing with friends I won’t use the app to track my stats, because it can get time-consuming.  Quick little doodles on the scorecard are faster, in my opinion.

What this does is, it shows you in black-and-white where you’re screwing up at.  If you’re shooting 100 and 50 strokes are putts… you have a lot to work on.  If you’re shooting 100 and you average 30 putts a round, you can then look to where you’re losing strokes away from the green.  From there, check your short-game shots: Of the 70 shots, how many are chips, pitches and sand shots?  Maybe that’s where finding your “Big Gain” is at: you duff too many chips and pitches, or take too many shots to get out of bunkers.

But maybe it’s not that black-and-white.  For the more anal-retentive (like me), I also write down how long each putt was.  So you may have a relatively low amount of chips, pitches and bunker shots, but an abnormally high amount of putts.  The kicker is, you putt that many times because your short game shots are stopping too far away from the hole.  According to AimPoint Golf (Facebook page here):

Average Putting Stats from the US PGA Tour in 2002 for putts from 3 feet to 10 feet:

3′ 99%
4′ 93%
5′ 83%
6′ 74%
7′ 65%
8′ 56%
9′ 50%
10′ 45%

It’s not that much different in 2015, really.  From 3′, the Tour average is still about 99%.  Putting from 10′ is still about 45%.

It’s easy to see that the farther away from the hole you are, the harder it is to make a putt.  Duh, right?  Well, if you’re short-changing yourself on your chips, pitches, etc., you’ll never set yourself up to make birdies, pars, or protect yourself from blow-up holes by saving bogey.

Find your “Big Gain” in the Fairway

As for hitting fairways, if you find yourself missing a lot of fairways, at this level it’s costing you strokes.  Sure, it’d be nice to have a PW to the green… but not a PW from inside a grove of trees or in a patch of three-feet tall grass.  Pros and big-hitting single-digit handicappers can get away with this… but for someone looking to break 100, temper your need to pull out the driver and


It’s not that bad hitting a nice 7 iron from a good lie into the green instead of an over-aggressive 8 from the thick stuff.  The shorter, higher-lofted fairway wood will be easier to control, as well!

Find Your “Big Gain” Attacking the Green

When you look at the GIR totals, do you like what you see?  Likely, no, or you wouldn’t need any help breaking 100/90/whatever.  Most amateurs just overestimate their ability.  They ask their buddy “whatcha usin’?”, and will mimic what they use.  Don’t want to look like a pansy, right?  Wrong… you look worse coming up short.

So what if your buddy is using a 7 or 8 iron?  If you need to use a 6, or even a 5, so be it.  There’s no place on the score card for what club you used on every shot.  It’s much better to hit a smooth whatever you need (which also ups your chances of making squared contact) instead of trying to crush a higher-lofted club, which increases the likelihood of leaving the face open or closing it too fast.

If you don’t believe me, look at the courses you play on… where are the bunkers and valleys usually at?  The sides, and more often the front.  Sure, some have hazards in the back, but the majority have all their troubles in the front and sides.  They know you’re going to come up short and/or slice (rarely hook), because so many have done it before you.  Take one more club, throttle it back a little and land your approach shot on the green.

Find Your “Big Gain” On The Green

Let’s say that you are doing things tee-to-green like you should (or close to it), but you’re still averaging more than 40 putts a round.  You need to fix that if you want to make a breakthrough.

My two favorite drills are the Ladder Drill and the Clock Drill.

Ladder Drill: for the Ladder Drill, you set down 3-5 balls in three foot increments.  Start at 3′ from the hole.  Make them all and move back to six feet; make them all at six feet and move to nine feet… you get the idea.  Miss one or more, regardless of where you’re at in the drill, start over from the beginning.  When you get to about the 12′ mark, you need to alter your goal; yes, it’d be nice to make them all, but not even Tour Pros do that (remember: they only make 45% of their 10′ putts).  From here, imagine the hole is 18″ in diameter.  According to putting guru Dave Pelz:

You must find a way to roll putts 17 inches past the hole (when they miss). Research proves that putts have a greater chance of finding the cup (regardless of putt length) when the ball rolls at this speed

The only thing I alter to this is that it’s OK to miss less than 18″ in front of the hole.  While it’s a good idea to roll the ball past the hole to get a look at how it’ll break on the way back, a putt less than two feet isn’t that hard to make, even for a 100-shooter.  We’d like to miss past the hole, but don’t beat yourself up if you don’t.

Clock Drill: The Clock Drill is where you place a ball at different points around a hole on the putting green.  Anything more than five, but don’t go crazy.  When starting this drill, go easy on yourself at first; 3-4 feet from the hole is fine.  You have to make all of them, or you start over.  If you can, find a hole that has both flat spots and undulations, to get a real feel for each type of break you’ll face.

For both drills, it’s a good idea to go through your preshot routine before each putt, to get the feel of “game time” pressure.

Most people when surveyed say they want to hit the ball farther.  That’s nice, but if it doesn’t do anything to help your scores (because you can’t putt to save your life or miss every green and/or fairway in regulation), why focus on it?  Finding your “Big Gain” at this level tends to happen in large chunks.  Maybe you’re shooting 105 consistently, then all of a sudden you’re shooting 100 consistently.  Before you know it, you’re shooting 95!  I believe it truly helps to spend some time analyzing your game to pinpoint exactly where you need help, which allows you to home in on the problem and correct it efficiently.

About the author 

Justin Blair

Justin Blair is the founder of Green Lantern Golf. When he isn't bringing his 10+ years of excellent craftsmanship experience to golf club fitting, building, and repair, he's geeking out about Star Wars (he's watched them all about 8,437 times!) and things like the MCU and LOTR, he's drinking mead and craft brews. If you wanna know more, check out my About Page!

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