golf practice tips

How to Break 80 Lesson 01: Setting Golf Goals

Welcome to lesson 01 – setting goals to improve your golf skills as we kick off our blog series “How to Break 80” which will span several weeks with a new addition to the series every Wednesday. By clicking the link above you can access all current posts created for this blog series, which likely has ended by the time you are reading this.

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Setting Goals to Improve Your Golf Game

To start off and get you on your way to shooting lower scores and ultimately breaking 80, we must begin by setting goals to accomplish in practice as well as out on the golf course.

It sounds cliche, but setting goals truly does work because it gives you purpose and something to strive for each day that you head to the course to get better. Structure is an important aspect to improving or improving in a timely fashion so setting goals will give you some structure to utilize in your golf improvement timeline.

setting goals golf season

As you can see in the info-graphic, there are many skills that contribute to your success as a golfer. Putting and chipping are usually the most crucial for golfers who are on the verge of breaking 80 because these are the golfers who have decent swings that can get the ball moving towards the green but lack finishing skills. Short game is huge for finishing a hole with par or better and should be addressed first when setting your goals.

For example, you should analyze your current putting and chipping skills either through memory or by performing a skills test the next time you’re on the course. I’d advise the second method so that you can see where you’re at currently for different length putts.

Now we’re going to actually get into setting goals in a broken down fashion so you can make sure to cover all aspects of your game. We don’t want you to just set general goals such as “I want to improve” or “I want to shoot this score.”

Breaking down your goals into more specific components will help you ultimately achieve that general goal such as shooting below a certain score or seeing your handicap decrease. When I first created my 12 week practice plan that helped me get back to shooting scores around par/scratch golf, I had to start by setting goals specific to certain areas of my game and not just general phrases.

Setting Goals – Putting

  • How good of a putter are you currently?
  • Can you make 90% or more of your putts from 3 ft?
  • Can you make 80% or more of your putts from 5 ft?
  • Can you make 70% or more of your putts from 7 ft?
  • Can you make 60% or more of your putts from 10 ft?
  • Can you lag putt 20 out of 20 attempts inside of 3 ft from 20 ft away from the hole?
  • Can you lag putt 18 out of 20 attempts from 30 ft away to within 3 ft of the hole?
  • Can you lag putt 16 out of 20 attempts from 40 ft away to within 3 ft of the hole?
  • How many 3 putts do you average per round?
  • How do you rate your putting stroke on a scale of 1-10?
  • How nervous do you get putting from inside 5 feet?

Your answers to these questions should indicate some goals you should be setting for yourself moving forward. First and foremost you want to cut out 3 putts. These are wasted strokes that cause a lot of frustration for you on the course when a 3 putt occurs. You can quickly reduce your score right away by a few strokes if you eliminate 3 putts.

Setting Goals – Chipping

  • What are your chipping strengths?
  • What are your chipping weaknesses?
  • Do you prefer to putt or chip from fringe around the green?
  • Have you tested yourself putting and chipping from the same spot on the fringe to see which you are actually better at and using at least 25 reps for each method to get good data to analyze?
  • Do you know how to hit flop shots and change trajectory with your chips?
  • Do you use one wedge for chipping or multiple?
  • Do you like more roll or more carry (bump and run vs fly & stop)?
  • How would you rate your chipping stroke on a scale of 1-10?
  • Can you chip under pressure to get up and down for par or do you feel nervous or shaky?
  • How many chips out of 25 can you get inside 3ft to a short, medium, and long distance hole.

Hopefully these questions have sparked some more self realization of where your chipping skills are at and give you ideas of what to create goals for.

One goal I like to set and test myself with is how many chips in a row can I get to stop within 3ft or closer to hole from 30ft-40ft away.

It simulates a pressure up and down from farther away so that I can build confidence in my long distance chipping ability once I see my percentage rising over the course of practicing it and re-testing myself.

Then I know for shorter chips that since I can do the long ones at a high percentage I should be able to do the short ones at an even higher percentage.

Evaluate your current chipping skills and set goals for where you want to be in a week, in a few weeks, and in a few months from now. Try to hit these goal targets in your goal timeline.

Setting Goals – Golf Course Strategy

  • Do you have a course strategy each time you play a round of golf?
  • How well does that strategy continually work out?
  • Do you change your strategy every time you play a round of golf?
  • Do you know what a course strategy even is?
  • How many times do you go in a water hazard per round on average?
  • How many times do you go in the bunkers per round on average?
  • How many tee shots do you hit out of bounds or out of play on average per round?
  • How many second through finishing shots are hit out of bounds/out of play per round?
  • How do you handle windy days?
  • How do you handle rainy days?

golf short game practice drills

Strategy Goals differ from Performance Goals in that they make you aware of situations before hand so that you can prevent disaster on the golf course.

For example, you can pre-determine a strategy goal of not to hit the ball out of bounds because you’re currently averaging 2 shots per round that fly past those white out of bounds stakes. Then when you step onto the golf course this will be one of the focuses at the forefront of your brain that you’re aware of and trying to prevent.

You may decide to hit safer clubs today on tight holes, sacrificing distance but also saving you strokes potentially that you normally give up to O.B shots.

Summarized: Strategy Goals are important to think up ahead of time so you are aware of what to prevent, try, or do on the golf course and don’t mindlessly commit errors that ruin a good round.

Resource: Try this practice routine for your short game

Golf Swing Improvement Goals

The golf swing seems to be the most important thing everyone focuses  on and thinks will get them better but this can be right and wrong.

In my case, I didn’t have a very solid golf swing but I learned how to play it to simply get to the green.

Your golf swings job is to move the ball from the tee to the green in the number of strokes recommended (the GIR) but if you miss the green on the approach you can make up for it with chipping, pitching, short game, etc.

So it really doesn’t matter how pretty or how ugly your swing is if it does its job of keeping the ball in play, avoiding hazards, and getting you within 5 yards of the green or less in the GIR for your short game to do the rest.

I’ve shot 75 or less several times hitting 5 of 18 greens or less but that’s because I was able to get myself near the green off the tee on par 3’s, near the green in 2 shots for par 4’s, and 3 shots for par 5’s. Those are the days a solid short game can bail you out.

Okay, enough rambling about the swing but I just wanted to point out that your short game should receive more attention than your golf swing if your swing can at least get you near the green into a position for an up and down. If you’re still far from the green on a consistent basis when you should be on it, then you can argue that your swing needs more work and focus.

Golf Swing Goals

  • Can my swing get me to the green in a timely fashion for my short game to take over and finish me with par or better?
  • Can I hit low shots to avoid tree limbs when I’m in the woods?
  • Can I hit high trajectory shots over trees?
  • Does my swing slice or draw?
  • How bad is my slice or draw?
  • Is my slice or draw playable and still gets me to the green near the GIR?
  • How often do I chunk shots or top/thin shots?
  • Is my swing speed within range for my age and handicap?
  • Do I hit the ball far enough for my age and handicap?

Create goals around some of these questions and decide how much time you should focus on your golf swing each week. Usually you want to work on it at the end of practice once you’ve worked on short game for awhile and played some holes. The warm up before a round is like it reads “a warm-up” and it’s not advised to spend this time trying to fix pieces of your swing before going out to play.

Summarized: Hit range balls with purpose focusing on keeping the ball in play and away from trouble. Don’t worry too much about how straight it is but instead make sure you’re cutting down the number of tops, thins, chunks, blades, shanks,etc because these are the wasted strokes and wasted strokes matter more than how straight your ball flight was on its way down to the green. Get a swing that can move you into position for your short game to finish the work and you’ll see some strokes fall off.

That last sentence is a great goal if you’re still stuck on what to write for this sections goals (:

Golf Score Improvement Goals

Ah yes, the section of goals you’ve probably been excited for. These goals are fun to plan out but completing the above goals will naturally make these goals become reality. Still, set target score goals so that you can monitor your progress in the other sections and see how much you need to crank your practices up to reach these goals.

End of Week 1:

Goal: I want to shave off a stroke from my scores.

Action Step = Cut down on one 3 putt.

End of Week 2:

Goal: I want to see my scores have decreased by 2 strokes since starting two weeks ago.

Action Step: Cut down more wasted putts, or hit no shots in hazards nor O.B for a round.

End of Week 3:

Goal: I want to be shooting scores 3 strokes less than when I started 3 weeks ago

Action Step: My swings improved some, I can make almost 90% of my putts from 3 ft and 70% from 5 ft compared to 80% and 50% three weeks ago, and I’m getting more chips inside 3 ft from different spots around the green.

Concluding Thoughts on Setting Goals

As you can see, you need to set clearly defined goals broken down by the different aspects of the golf game:

  • Putting
  • Chipping
  • Short Game inside 50 yards
  • Short Game inside 100 yards
  • Golf Swing
  • Mental
  • Course Strategy

Achieving targets set in each aspect will result in the achievement of the ultimate scoring goals.

  • Set a putting percentage goal for 3 ft and 5 ft as well as percentage of lag putts from different distances inside 3 ft.
  • Set chipping percentage goals for different distances to holes to get the ball inside 3ft and 5ft.
  • Set short game skill percentage goals for bunker shots and pitches from 10-50 yards away
  • Set goals for your golf swing and club distances if they need improved
  • Set a course strategy to apply to your rounds and how you’ll handle different shots if they come up by chance in a round
  • Set mental improvement goals such as how your attitude will improve if you make a bad score on a hole so that it doesn’t affect your next hole.
  • Set confidence level goals and believe you’ll shoot lower scores every week from improved awareness and practices.

Our next post to this series will cover Skills Evaluation branching off of today’s goals. By evaluating your current percentages and skill levels for different components of your golf game you’ll be able to adjust your goals towards what you need to work on heavily as well as setting higher goals if you discover you’re already better at something than you thought. I created these worksheets to help you track your progress so learn more about them.

Push yourself to get better this week and tune in next week for our second post.

Golf Practice Routines to Score Lower

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indoor golf practice drills