Advice for Avoiding the Train Wreck

Here are the facts. I have been playing golf steady for the last 20 years. Before that I quit playing for about 20 years and I started playing when I was around 9 or 10 and played up until my early 20's. Yep, you guessed it. I'm in my mid 60's. Can't get down into the single digits for a steady handicap. Currently I'm a 10.0. My lowest round ever has been level par. My average drive is 220, 7 iron 140 PW 105. I play with a group that plays 6500 yards. There are several par 4's that I cannot reach in regulation except once in a blue moon and then that would be a driver and a 3W. I really have to scramble to get  up and down to shoot in the mid to lower 80's for my 10.0 index. At my club there is a tradition that you don't move up to the 6000 yd tees until you reach 70. When I don't play with my group (15-20 players) I occasionally play from the 6000 yard tees and it makes the game a lot easier. There is a big difference from trying to get on in regulation with a 3W/3 Hybrid and a 7 iron. Here is the real question though. It seems like on one or two holes I will have a train wreck that would really help my score if they did not happen. How do you avoid train wrecks ? Usually happens when a drive goes into the rough and all you are trying to do is get back in the fairway and you hit a tree and go even deeper from where you were. Or even worse, you are in the middle of the fairway and slice/pull hook your next shot into the woods or into a water hazard that should not even come into play. I will say that if I could avoid what seems to be the one consistent thing in my game, the inedible blow up hole or two in a round I would be most grateful. 

At a 10 handocap level a player is expected to have some "blow up" holes.  Anytime I get into trouble, I always try to remember to just take my medicine and get the ball back into play where I can set up a good next shot.  If I am deep in the rough or the trees, I take the easiest and highest percentage route out of trouble.  Sometimes this may not be advancing the ball and may be a lateral shot, but I always look for the highest percentage shot to get back into play.  Using this apprach, I only lose 1 shot on the hole and limit the opportunity for a blow up.  Also, I have the mondset that I can make this up with a good approach shot and a one putt for par.  Likewise, if I have a great drive and pull my second shot into the hazard, I take the penalty and move on.  After all, this is only one stroke.  If I can get on the green close with my next shot and one putt, I can walk away with a bogey and still feel ok about the hole because I got the train back on track.

Mike C

At a 10 handocap level a player is expected to have some "blow up" holes.  Anytime I get into trouble, I always try to remember to just take my medicine and get the ball back into play where I can set up a good next shot.  If I am deep in the rough or the trees, I take the easiest and highest percentage route out of trouble.  Sometimes this may not be advancing the ball and may be a lateral shot, but I always look for the highest percentage shot to get back into play.  Using this apprach, I only lose 1 shot on the hole and limit the opportunity for a blow up.  Also, I have the mondset that I can make this up with a good approach shot and a one putt for par.  Likewise, if I have a great drive and pull my second shot into the hazard, I take the penalty and move on.  After all, this is only one stroke.  If I can get on the green close with my next shot and one putt, I can walk away with a bogey and still feel ok about the hole because I got the train back on track.

I think I will take your advice on when I get into trouble from a tee shot. I try to pull off a miracle shot from the woods to make up for the bad tee shot and it works out about one time in five, not a very good percentage. I have also had the mind set after a good tee shot and a bad second shot to just forget about it and chalk it up as a lost stoke.

Hi Carl,

I identified a trend of certain 'blow-up' holes' on the courses I play so I then took these holes with me to the range and practiced my desired tee shot and also the shots I had to play when I drove it into the trouble. This way, when I tee it up, I'm confident about as many outcomes as possible and I feel relaxed before I swing.

Great advice Mike C. It's been my experience that, when one gets into trouble, say on a par four, get out of trouble and pretend the hole is a par 5. Then, try to make birdie 4.

I'm also reminded of an article Ben Crenshaw one wrote where he discussed getting into trouble. His idea was that you will make bogeys, but you must avoid double bogey and worse.

Hi Carl,

I smiled when I read your post...ah, the blow up hole!  The reason I smiled is because when I play against the guys (which I often do), I count on the blow up hole by them to keep me in the match! :)

A couple thoughts on mental part of the potential blow up hole - when it happens to the guys I'm playing, I think part of their mentality is that they are playing me, and not the course - does your blow up hole happen because you think you need to make a hero shot instead of taking a drop and trying to salvage bogey (or even double?).  Or does it happen out of frustration from the shot you made to get you there?  I can't tell you how many times I've played with people still re-living a bad shot from a few holes back...that's mental jail! 

My lack of length has never bothered me because I use my consistency as a "weapon" against the bombers...I have no expectation on about 3 of our par-4 holes that I can get on in regulation (same thing, long approach for me)...when I'm at a certain yardage or more, I just hit to 80 yards - rather than trying to wail on a 3-wood and either yank it left or hitting a worm burner.  If I think I can get my long hybrid there, I'll try it.   I also really try to take advantage of the holes I know I can score on...which, ironically are often the blow up holes for others...narrow shorter holes where I can get within wedge range (even hitting 3-wood off the tee) - to watch the bombers "going for the green" and maybe making it one out of 5 times.  I "give" myself 3 bogeys a side - 39-39-78.  If I get a birdie, then I've got 1 to play with...or if I get on a nice par streak then I might even be more aggressive on a longer hole to try to get a GIR knowing I can afford a bogey.  The best compliments I get on the golf course are:  You're boring...Don't you ever get tired of hitting it down the middle?...You're like a robot.  Ah, music to my ears...I know I'm getting to them!! :)  The clincher for me is when they start complaining about my "advantage" from the forward tees - let the mental games begin!

I guess what has really helped me over the years is to play the course the best way for me - knowing where it plays to my strengths and where I need to avoid trouble.  That's not to say I don't have my own blow up holes...(thinking of a lovely triple I took on a par-5 a few weeks ago! Bunker, to the woods, short approach and 3 banger-Ouch!)...but if it's early enough in the round, I don't get defeated because I know I can try to work it down to my 9-hole goal of 3 bogeys. 

Happy Golfing!!  Cathy

Hey Carl, everyone has a train wreck in their bag and most of us can't recover the way those folks on TV do.  My train wrecks usually come early in the game, I just figure I have holes ahead to make up for that bad hole.  You mentioned playing from the short tees, I frequently do just that as it just makes the game more fun since you have a better chance of scoring pars.  When its just me and the wife I'll play from the ladies tees and enjoy a good score.  When I'm with my buddies I'll usually coax them into a shorter game and everyone has a better day.  USGA is also promoting Tee it Forward, mostly to speed up play and I'd have to say that playing shorter yardage games does go faster and there's far less chance of a train wrecks ruining an otherwise good game.  Just some thoughts.  Most important, have fun.

I'm in the same range age and distance.  Your buddies should be willing to let you play the 6000 yard tees if you drive 220 and they drive 240+.  Everyone should have an equal shot at GIR with a drive in the fairway.  While most 70 year olds may not hit much more than 200-210, age shouldn't be the distinguishing factor.  I've improved my game to the 220 range, so instead of moving back to 6300 yards, it really is nice using a 7 or 8 iron to go for the green, instead of a the equivalent 3 or 4 fairway/hybrid, or always laying up 80-100 yards away.  I can blow up holes with longer clubs by being outside of +/- 20 yards with the long clubs, whereas the same dispersion pattern with a 7 iron is more like less than +/- 15 yards, and at least a chance for 2 putting from 30 feet for par.

As Jack says, Tee it Forward.

Great response Cathy. I think a lot of my blow ups (I consider double bogey or worse) occurs when I get in a hurry and don't think things through. Sometimes I just want to get back in the fairway and have to go between two trees. I end up hitting the tree instead of the gap. You have given me a great idea about working on certain shots on the range. I need to see what club will let me hit a "field goal" between two trees and keep the ball flight low to avoid low branches, fades and draws, etc. Things I normally do not work on. Sometimes real train wrecks just happen and I guess as you say you just have to forget about it. Example: Tee shot hooked left ball lodged against tree. Next shot, Standing back to the fairway, swing short iron backwards and punch ball back into the short grass. Next shot, ball hit a little fat, lands in green side bunker lodged in the sand under front lip. Next shot you use all your strength and power the ball just a few feet out of the bunker onto front edge of green. Hole is 45 feet away. You 3 putt. You just made 7 on a par 4. Before that you were one over after 7. This is a blow up.

Don't make a mistake a disaster by trying a stupid shot that has little to no chance of success! Accept the bogey and move on and light the bogey stogie ..

Carl, I understand what you mean by train wreck.  I have started back playing this year after a 20 year lay off, I am 53.  When I quit I was a 3 handicap.  It has taking some adjustments but I am getting use to playing again.  I have fell in love with golf again.  I agree with many of the comments - try and limit your train wreck but let me tell you, it is not because you are a 10 handicap or you are in your mid 60's - I have train wrecks regularly!  Yesterday I shot 3 over par on a 6800 yard course, one of my best rounds since coming back.  But on the 3rd hole, a 200 yard par 3 over water - I hit my first shot in the water, took a drop in the drop area, about 60 yards from the green. I proceeded to hit it over the green, then chip on and two putted - bang - triple bogey that fast......the next couple holes were shakey but i managed to par them and then I settled down and played great.  I think the train wrecks happen because of the lack of confidence to get out of trouble and this only comes with time and practice or so I hope!!  Good luck and keep you head down or that is what usually causes my wrecks!

Carl,

I'm right there with you on the blow up holes.  I had a great round going at 5 over at the turn.  Made a great birdie at 10 and then on 11 got bogey even after taking a penalty on a par 5.  Hit a bunker shot to 3 foot on the Par 3 12th and burned the edge!  OHHH!  Bogey.... that's all I needed to go to mental jail.  Then double, bogey, bogey before a par then 2 doubles.  UGH.

I was rolling putts so well before the miss on 12 that I carried that lingering thought of the miss with me for the remaining holes.  I can't seem to shake it off and forget.  I noticed I wasn't comfortable the rest of the day putting.  :-(

I don't worry about not making greens in 2 on 400+ yard par 4s and par 3s over 185 yardsare out of reach for my 5 wood. 

I would say my worst thing is rushing my swing or  coming over the top (both go hand in hand). 

If things start going haywire I check my setup.

Also have a backup plan.  For instance, if you start faltering on full swings with wedges, think about pitching a less lofted club or taking a partial shot with a hybrid.   I carry a 31 and 34 hybrid and they have pretty high trajectories.  

I played a 2 day 2 course tournament this past weekend.  My 2nd shot was hitting another players ball - 2 stroke penalty.  Surprisingly I just said "oh well" laughed it off and had a great front nine.

That is something I am going to have to remember and bring into my game.

Boys and girls I thought I was going to shoot the round of my life today. I was even par at the turn with one bogey and one birdie. Then the wheels started coming off. Sliced my drive on #10 and had to hit between a bunch of trees just to get back on the fairway. Nothing heroic. Just picked a line and hit a 5 iron keeping a low trajectory and dead centered the last tree. Ball came back almost to where I was standing. Ended up with a double. Had more tree trouble on the next hole and had to get up and down from 200 yards to save par. I did it. Long story short I ended the back 9 with three doubles and two bogeys and because I 3 putted #18 ended up with an 80. Would this be considered a train wreck ? I am a 13 handicap and shot 5 under my average today.