Cognizant Classic in The Palm Beaches

PGA National (Champion Course)



Breaking 80

We analyzed the stats of 1,000 golfers hoping to break 80. Here's what it revealed

February 02, 2023
A selection of 10 different golfer types

Editor's note: Data insights exclusively provided by Golf Digest-partner Arccos, golf’s No. 1 on-course performance-tracking system. You can learn more, and purchase your own Arccos system, right here.

Most golfers won't play in the Masters. They won't win a major, drive the ball 300 yards or ever shoot under par. But there is one dream that is in reach for most golfers.

Breaking 80.

Having the ability to break 80 is the universal marker of respect among golfers in the recreational ranks. In many ways, it puts you squarely in golf's goldilocks zone: You're a good player, but not an intimidating one to play with. It also means you're an avid one: You've played plenty of rounds in your time and know how to get it around on the bad days.

But how do you get there?

With the season approaching, we wanted to help golfers get a clearer answer to that question. So, Golf Digest partnered with Arccos and dove deep into the company's database, which includes 13 million rounds and more than 600 million shots worldwide. We pulled the Strokes Gained data for 1,000 golfers with a handicap between 7-9. A group of golfers, in other words, right on the cusp of breaking 80.

Then, we consulted Michael Hutchinson, a data scientist and a very good golfer in his own right. He ran a cluster analysis on the data, which uncovered that there are six different groups of 80s shooters.

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Each set of golfers has its own unique strengths and, crucially, its own set of weaknesses that stop them from shooting in the 70s consistently.

Let's dive in, but before we do, a quick note: All the Strokes Gained data you see here is relative to a scratch golfer. If your number is "0", you're as good as a scratch golfer.

80s shooter No. 1: The Mental Mistake Makers

Their Arccos stats:

Driving Distance: 255 yards

SG: Off the Tee: -1.777

SG: Approach: -2.403S

G: Around the Green: -0.522

SG: Putting: -1.448

The first batch of golfers is perhaps the closest to consistently breaking 80 of any group here. They're better than their peers at both chipping and putting, and almost exactly average Off The Tee—both in distance and overall strokes gained. Their weakest part of the game comes with their irons.

Given the relative all-around strength of their game, we suspect these golfers are seeing a handful of unforced errors during their rounds. They're likely under-clubbing themselves and leaving themselves short too often, or they're aiming at too many pins and leaving themselves short-sided. Their mistakes are at the margins, but they cost them.

How they can break 80:

Ultimately, these golfers need to go to strategy school (Butch Harmon can help with that here). That means working backwards from the green, avoiding the worst spots to miss, taking more club, and aiming for the middle of the green more.

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Karl Hendon

80s shooter No. 2: The Disaster Shotmakers

Their Arccos stats:

Driving Distance: 224 yards

SG: Off the Tee: -3.212

SG: Approach: -3.081

SG: Around the Green: -0.944

SG: Putting: -0.179

These golfers is good around the greens. They're the best putters of any other group here and boast the second-best chipping stats.

What their issue is ball-striking. They lose a whopping 6.293 shots from tee-to-green, which is only possible because they're making big contact errors far too often. Tops, shanks, skies, skulls—these golfers are simply struggling to consistently put the clubface on the ball.

How they can break 80

Solid contact is the aim of the game. Give your fundamentals a good look, and on the range consider using some foot spray on the clubface to find where on the clubface you're hitting it.

Brush the grass

80s shooter No. 3: The New Low Point Finders

Their Arccos stats:

Driving Distance: 261 yards

SG: Off the Tee: -1.174

SG: Approach: -2.820

SG: Around the Green: -1.849

SG: Putting: -1.251

These golfers hit the ball plenty far (within just one yard of the longest hitters in the group) and are above average putters. Their issues come with their irons and wedges, which means one thing: They don't know where the low point of their golf swing is. Their contact errors aren't as disastrous as the group before, but they're likely hitting slightly too far behind the ball (chunks, drop kicks) or too far in front of the ball (thins) a little too often.

How they can break 80

Ball position will be a big thing to look at with these golfers, as will their weight shift. It could be, for instance, that you're sliding your hips too much on the backswing, which makes the low point of your swing inconsistent.

80s shooter No. 4: The Yippy Putters

Their Arccos stats:

Driving Distance: 262 yards

SG: Off the Tee: -0.943

SG: Approach: -0.993

SG: Around the Green: -0.987

SG: Putting: -3.621

The longest hitters of any group and across-the-board solid everywhere, except in one important area: on the greens. These are your classic if-only-they-could-putt golfers. They miss the short ones, three-putt the long ones, and they're not happy about it.

How they can break 80

A little practice can go a long way here. Investing in a putting mirror and some putting gates will improve your putting stroke and help you find the sweetspot more often, which will help your distance control.

80s shooter No. 5: The Landmine Golfers

Their Arccos stats:

Driving Distance: 229 yards

SG: Off the Tee: -2.745

SG: Approach: -0.218

SG: Around the Green: -0.413

SG: Putting: -3.448

These golfers are far and away the best iron players of the group and they're the best chippers, too. But their off-the-tee and putting stats suggest that their rounds are in the classic good-but-had-a-few-blow-up-holes model. They lose control of their slice and hit it into nowhere on one hole, drive their ball into water on another and throw in a three-putt in between. Three small moments, stopping you from shooting in the 70s.

How they can break 80

Will Robins has some advice for golfers who aspire to suck less at the game they love (who doesn't?). Ultimately, your singular task is learning to identify and eliminate your one big miss off the tee. Throw in a bit of putting practice, and you're right there.

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Jamie Squire/Getty Images

80s shooter No. 6: The (Too) Short and Straight Hitters

Their Arccos stats:

Driving Distance: 209 yards

SG: Off the Tee: -1.185

SG: Approach: -3.650

SG: Around the Green: -0.444

SG: Putting: -1.410

The shortest hitters of the bunch, but their lack of distance doesn't hurt their game notably off the tee because they're still finding the fairway. Where it really hurts is coming into greens. They're leaving themselves such a long way back for their second shot, they're at a huge disadvantage compared to everyone else.

How they can break 80

Quite simply, speed training. Use the offseason to commit to a speed-training program (there are lots out there). It's OK if a few more drives miss the fairway, a few extra yards will make it a fair trade.

Michael Hutchinson contributed to this article.