The bane of the amateur golfer's existence is the so-called “blow-up hole.”
You've got a scorecard filled with pars, bogeys and maybe even a birdie, plus one or two dreaded “others” – double bogeys, triple bogeys or worse. Instead of posting a solid, perhaps career-best score, you trudge home thinking “what-if?” Again.
While blow-up holes are often caused by a single awful shot – like a drive out of bounds or a flubbed iron into the water – there are several tactics for avoiding them without changing your swing. This is where proper course management pays huge dividends.
Here are three ways to cure the blow-up hole blues:
1. Lay up when there's trouble nearby
You put those hybrids in your bag for a reason, you know. Rather than thoughtlessly reaching for the driver on every par 4 or par 5, take a good look at the hole before choosing a club. If there's OB, water, woods or sand close to the landing area, hit a hybrid or fairway wood instead. You'll sacrifice a little distance but greatly reduce your odds of finding trouble and incurring a penalty stroke.
The same goes for second shots on par 5s and approaches to par 4s. Always weigh the risk of hitting a shot poorly vs. the reward for hitting it well. If you stand much to lose and little to gain, choose the more conservative path.
When you do hit the ball into the woods, rough or sand, consider your options. If the route to the hole means playing a low-percentage shot, look for an alternative. For example, a sideways pitch-out from the trees to the fairway, or a wedge from thick rough instead of a longer iron.
Golf is all about minimizing the damage done by your misses. When you find trouble, take the advice of Bob Dylan: Swallow your pride – it's not poison.
3. Don't give up
Golf can be a frustrating game, and it's easy to just quit on a hole after a bad shot or two. Resist the urge. As long as you're still in the hole, give every shot 100-percent focus and effort. By staying calm and concentrating, you'll turn a few triple bogeys into mere doubles, and doubles into satisfying bogeys. By day's end, a stroke here and a stroke there can make a big difference.
Note to novice golfers: Sometimes, your best bet is to pick up and live to fight another hole. In other words, know when to say when. Your playing partners and the group behind you will appreciate it.
Top Three Ways to Prevent Blow-Up Holes
One of the challenges that comes along with trying to shoot a good golf score is the possibility that it can all slip away from you in a single hole. You could put in three hours of great work, making mostly pars and birdies with the occasional bogey, only to watch your score be destroyed by a single blow-up hole. If you post an eight or a nine on one hole, it probably won't matter what you do for the rest of the round, as your score has already been ruined. In order to reach your scoring goals on the golf course, it is essential that you avoid blow-up holes at all costs.
There is no warning for when a blow-up hole might appear on your scorecard. Even on days where you are filled with confidence and you are making great swings, it can happen in the blink of an eye. While there is no way to completely eliminate the possibility of a blow-up hole within your game, there are steps you can take to reduce the likelihood of this frustrating experience. Mostly, limiting your blow-up holes is a matter of making good decisions. Your swing mechanics are already established when you walk onto the first tee at the start of the round, and for the most part, they aren't going to change while you are on the course. To get the most from your game and to keep your score as low as possible, you will need to think properly as you go about your round.
Before getting into specific details on how you can use smart decisions to avoid the ugly blow-up hole, there is one thing you will need above all else while you are on the golf course – patience. Golf is a great game, but it is not a fast game. Most rounds of golf take more than four hours to complete, meaning you will need plenty of patience if you are going to score your best. It is often a loss of patience that leads to blow-up holes, as poor decisions are made based on the player not wanting to sacrifice a single stroke. Sometimes, it is best to 'give' the course a single shot on a troublesome hole to avoid the possibility of giving back several more. These kinds of decisions take patience, so you are going to need to keep your mind in a patient place during every round that you play.
It is also important to note what kind of course you are playing on a given day, as the design of the course will have a lot to do with the possibility of a blow-up hole ruining your score. Courses with plenty of water hazards and out of bounds stakes are the ones you need to worry about. If there are very few (or no) hazards on the course you are playing, the chances of experiencing a blow-up hole are relatively low. However, if possible penalty strokes are lurking all-around the course, you will need to keep your guard up from the first hole to the last.
Following are the top three ways to prevent blow-up holes in your game. All of the instruction below is based on a right handed golfer. If you are a left handed player, please reverse the directions as necessary.
#1 – Earn Every Shot
What does it mean to 'earn every shot' on the golf course? Quite simply, it means that you should aspire to hit every single shot that ends up on your scorecard – in other words, you want to completely avoid penalty strokes when at all possible. Penalty strokes get added to your score when you hit the ball into a hazard or out of bounds, and they are nearly impossible to recover from on a consistent basis. Sure, hitting one ball in the water from time to time won't necessarily ruin your day, but you will consistently score better if you use a game plan which avoids these dangerous areas. In most cases, if you can finish a round without incurring a penalty shot, you will finish with a satisfying score.
In order to avoid penalty shots, you will have to be willing to pick conservative targets on a regular basis. For example, imagine that you are facing an approach shot into a green that is guarded by water on the right side. If the pin is also located on the right, it may be tempting to aim right at the hole in an attempt to hit a great shot. Of course, you may hit a great shot – but you could also wind up putting your ball in the water. Instead of taking that chance, the smarter play would be to aim well left of the hole to provide yourself with plenty of margin for error. By aiming away from the water, you dramatically reduce the chances of incurring a penalty stroke on this hole, and you also reduce the chances of the hole turning into a blow-up. Put the ball safely on the putting surface and move on knowing you don't have to worry about this hole getting away from you.
A single penalty shot on a hole isn't going to necessarily make that hole a blow-up, but you will be dangerously close to that edge. One of the other problems with penalty shots, besides the stroke they add to your score, is that your next shot is usually from a difficult position. If you hit the ball in the water, your next shot often has to go over that same water hazard. If you hit your ball out of bounds, you will have to replay from the same position – meaning that out of bounds area will be a threat again. Multiple penalties on the same hole will almost always result in a blow-up score, so you are flirting with trouble even by just incurring that first penalty.
If there is one course management point that most professional golfers understand but most amateurs don't, it is that being super-aggressive almost never pays off in the end. It might be fun to take a rip at the green of a par five in two shots, but is it worth the risk? Many times, you would be better off simply laying up and hitting a wedge into the green to set up your birdie. Of course, if there is no trouble lurking around the green – and no possibility of a penalty shot – you might be able to justify taking a shot at it without running the risk of a blow-up hole. However, if there is out of bounds or water guarding the target, the smart choice is going to be the conservative one.
When you walk to the first tee of a new round, keeping your card free from penalty shots should be one of your top priorities. You are probably more inclined to set goals related to how many birdies or pars you want to make, but simply keeping a 'clean' card throughout the day is much more important. Navigate your way around the course without a single penalty shot and you stand a great chance to steer clear of any blow-up holes.
#2 – Learn How to Minimize Damage
You are going to hit bad shots. Part of playing golf is hitting bad shots, and that is true for everyone from the best player in the world down to the total beginner. In fact, golf would be rather boring if there were no bad shots, as it is the poor shots which make the great ones so exciting. So, knowing that you are going to have to deal with bad shots from time to time, the ability to get yourself out of trouble is an incredibly important skill.
Most amateur golfers are lousy at getting their ball out of trouble and back into position. The problem stems from a lack of patience. After hitting a bad shot, most golfers strive to hit an incredible shot with their next swing to make up for the mistake they just made. This is the wrong way to go about playing the game. When you hit a bad shot, your goal with the next shot should simply be to minimize the damage so you can prevent that dreaded blow-up hole from landing on your scorecard. It will take great patience to resist the temptation to hit a miracle shot to make up for your mistake. The best golfers are the ones who are able to keep their patience throughout a round even when the bad shots start to add up. Losing your patience can quickly lead to a blow-up hole, so focus on taking the round one shot at a time and never lose your cool.
One great example of how to minimize the damage of a bad shot is what happens after you hit your ball into the trees. Imagine a long par four with trees guarding the entire right side of the fairway. Unfortunately, you have already hit your drive into those trees, and your ball is 180 yards from the green. At this point, you have two options – you can pitch the ball sideways back into the fairway, or you can try to thread the ball through the trees and onto the green. Let's look a little closer at each option –
- Going for the green. This is the exciting option. You take your time to pick out the perfect path through the woods to reach the green, then you make a daring swing hoping to send the ball on the exact line that you picked out. If executed perfectly, the ball could potentially wind up on the putting surface. If not, however, your ball could hit a tree and ricochet in nearly any direction. A failure to pull off this daring shot will very likely lead to a blow-up hole with at least a couple of wasted strokes that will never be recovered.
- Pitching out. Without a doubt, this is the 'boring' option when you find your ball in the woods. No one is going to get excited about pitching the ball back to the fairway, as it feels like you are wasting a shot. However, if you can simply put the ball back in play in just a single stroke, you will be taking the risk out of the equation. Instead of potentially hitting a tree which could send your ball further into the woods, you can get back into the short grass and limit the damage. You probably won't make very many pars this way, but you won't make very many triple bogeys either. This is a strategy that is intended to allow you to make a bogey and move on with your round.
It will almost always be better to pitch the ball out when faced with this scenario. You should only go for the green when you are highly confident that you will be able to avoid all of the trees as you send the ball toward the target. You have no control over the ball once it strikes a tree, so you are really gambling with your score once you allow that to happen.
Minimizing damage is a huge part of avoiding blow-up holes. Remember, the shots that allow you to minimize damage aren't always going to be fun, and you probably won't want to hit some of them – but you need to look at the situation objectively and make a decision that is best for your score at the end of the day.
#3 – Don't Force It from the Tee
The tee shot is usually where the process of making a big score on a hole begins. It is somewhat rare to experience a blow-up hole after a good tee shot, unless you deposit several balls in a row into the water hazard from the fairway. Most of the time, it will be a tee shot out of bounds or deep in the trees that leads to a blow-up. If you can do a good job of putting your ball in play throughout the round, you will likely finish without any eights or nines on the card.
As you arrive on the tee of any par four or par five hole, the first thing you should do is find the yardage for the hole from the tees you are playing. The distance of the hole, along with factors like the slope of the terrain and any wind, will determine your options from the tee. For instance, if you are playing a par four which is only 350 yards, you could likely hit a number of different clubs off the tee while still setting up an easy approach. On the other hand, if it is a 450-yard par four, you will most likely need to hit your driver (unless you are a long hitter).
Once you know how much distance you need to cover to reach the green, you can decide how much of that distance you want to cover with your tee shot. It is important to understand that you don't have to hit the ball out there as far as possible off of each tee. If, for example, there is a water hazard guarding part of the fairway, you may wish to use a club that will leave your tee shot short of the water. Sure, this method will leave you a longer approach to the green, but at least you will have avoided trouble. On the other hand, when facing a fairway with no hazards to speak of, you can go ahead and rip the ball up as close to the green as possible.
Your choices from the tee should always error the side of being conservative. Facing an extra twenty or thirty yards on your approach shot into the green is not a big deal compared to the damage that would be done to your scorecard if you hit the ball out of bounds with your driver. If you have any doubt at all in your mind about the club you are using, back off and select a club that provides you with the maximum amount of confidence. You need to believe in your tee shot choice on every hole, because doubting your club selection could quickly lead to a blow-up hole situation.
The need for options off of the tee should provide you with motivation to practice something other than your driver on the practice range. Work on hitting tee shots with your fairway metals and hybrid clubs on the range so you will have the confidence necessary to reach for them on the course. Also, practice hitting both draws and fades so you can pick a trajectory that will help you steer your ball away from trouble. Attempting to hit shots on the course that you haven't practiced first on the range is always asking for trouble, so expand your options on the practice tee whenever possible. Having a variety of tee shots available, and knowing when to use them, will be a great help in avoiding blow-up hole problems.
The three methods above should be a great help in your efforts to avoid big numbers. By taking the advice offered in the previous three sections, you will be well on your way to limiting the number of blow-up holes that you experience out on the course. To complete the discussion on this topic, however, there are a few more points that should be covered. Review the tips below to finish your education on the avoidance of blow-up holes.
- Leave each hole behind. Often, it will be a frustrating mistake from a previous hole that leads to a blow-up hole occurring in your round. If you don't leave behind the frustrations associated with mistakes made earlier in the round, those emotions could lead you to make poor decisions later on. It is best to look at your round of golf as 18 separate competitions. Do your best on each hole, and then leave that hole in the past as you go on to the next. Whether your birdied or bogeyed the previous hole should make no different in terms of your attitude or course management decisions. After the end of the round, there will be plenty of time to look back and evaluate your play. However, while you are in the middle of the round, stay focused on the shot at hand.
- Every stroke counts. Once a hole starts to get away from you, there will be a temptation to 'give up' on the hole and simply go through the motions until you have finally put the ball in the hole. Don't fall into this trap. Each stroke counts the same at the end of the day, whether it is a putt for birdie or a putt for triple bogey. You should be giving your full effort on each and every shot throughout the round, which means going through your pre-shot routine and selecting a specific target. Even if a hole is getting away from you quickly, there is no excuse for giving up. Stay focused and work hard to limit the damage as effectively as possible.
- Don't get trapped in a bunker. One quick way to have a blow-up hole without taking a penalty shot is to get stuck in a bunker. Even if you reach the side of the green in a couple of shots, taking three swipes to get your ball out of the sand can ruin your score in a hurry. When you do find yourself in a bunker, make it your top priority to simply get the ball out – even if that means the ball doesn't get very close to the hole. Play it safe and get back on the grass to avoid a blow-up score.
There is nothing fun about having a blow-up hole as part of your day on the golf course. Not only will this kind of a hole ruin your score, it can be downright embarrassing to play so poorly in front of your friends. Hopefully the content above will help you make smart decisions in an effort to stay far away from any blow-up holes.