Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Tackling Blowup Holes

One of the questions I keep receiving with regards to my course management metric research is ‘how do I avoid ‘blowup’ holes?’

I think it helps to understand what holes are likely to be a blowup hole, why they may be a blowup hole and what situations are conducive to creating a blowup hole.


What holes are likely to be a blowup hole?

For players across the board, usually the blowup hole will occur on a difficult driving hole. Particularly when the tee shot does not fit the golfer’s miss. For example, at last year’s FSGA Mid-Am at Old Marsh Golf Club, I was doing fine in the first round until I hit the 17th hole, a fairly tight par-5 where there was almost no room to the right and the wind was blowing to the right. At the time, that really didn’t fit my ballstriking because my miss was typically to the right and if I aim left to avoid it, I tend to over-do it and hit a dead-yank left.

And that’s what happened, a dead-yank hits a tree and actually kept the ball in play on a small cart path meant for the grounds crew. I wound up going from +1 after 7 holes to taking a 9 and being +5 after my 8th hole.

As I stated in my analysis of the WSJ Article on metrics and golf, as the scores get higher in a round of golf, improvements off the tee will make the largest improvements in that score. So, if a Tour pro shoots 82 on a course, he most likely had a bad day with the driver and had some bad holes due to the driver causing him issues. The penalty for bad shots with the driver is generally much more severe than bad shots with any other club.

The other holes where ‘blowups’ tend to occur are on Danger Zone approach shots. Particularly if there’s a hazard or O.B nearby. I would typically believe this happens on par-3’s more than par-4’s because usually the par-4’s are designed with the idea that they are very long (say, 450+ yards) and the purpose of the design is to force the golfer to hit two shots a long ways more than having to be very accurate with those shots. Furthermore, courses often design their par-3’s as their ‘signature hole’ which is usually surrounded by water and if the hole is a very long par-3, so be it.

I think the point here is that it’s good to identify these blowup holes early on and focus your attention to playing these holes well. If you’re playing a tournament, your practice round should probably have you hitting a bunch of balls and different shots on this hole to figure out the way you can most comfortably play the hole well. And when you’re on the range, you should envision hitting shots on those possible blowup holes before you go out and pla.

Why is a blowup hole a blowup hole?

A blowup hole for one golfer may not be a problem for another golfer. For instance, #3 at Olde Atlanta is a 200-210 yard par-3 with not a lot of room if you miss the green. If you’re more than 15 yards short of the green, you go into a small canyon that is a hazard. If you miss more than 5 yards left, you’re likely in some bushes that are there to protect the golfers on the 4th tee. There’s very little room right or long.

For me, it’s a 4-iron. For one of my friends, he hits it so long that it’s a mere 7-iron for him. Now, he’s not the most precise ballstriker I ever came across, but hitting a 7-iron is not a problem for him. And if I am a little offline with a 4-iron on that hole, it can be a disaster.

As we make it to the 4th hole, This hole is relatively easy for me. I can hit a driver right down the middle and have about 80-110 yards into the green. However, my friend struggles with it because he hits the ball so long that it requires him to hit a shot from right-to-left and he’s a left-to-right player. He could take less club, but it is one of those situations where less club will have the ball landing in an area surrounded by fairway bunkers. This creates an overload of worry for him and he often takes a poor swing on that hole and plays it poorly.

In essence, the 3rd hole is a potential blowup hole for me because of the pure level of difficulty of the shot. And the 4th hole is a potential blowup hole for him because the tee shot does not ‘fit his eye.’

It’s often easy to gloss over the shot that does not fit your eye and assume that because the hole is not difficult for most people that you’ll eventually ‘get it’ and play the hole well. But in my mind, the hole that does not fit your eye is one of the holes you should focus your efforts on the most.

What situations are conducive to create a blowup hole?

Just because a hole ‘fits your eye’ or is not considered overly difficult, that does not mean you will not have a ‘blowup’ hole because of it.

Obviously, we already discussed those holes with difficult and troubling tee shots are holes that usually are the ‘blowup holes.’ But what about the times you blowup on a hole when you don’t hit your tee shot O.B. or in a hazard?

One of the big ones I’ve found is when you are in the Danger Zone and in particular, with an impeded shot.

What are ‘impeded shots?’

- O.B.
- Hazards
- Fairway bunker
- Thick rough
- Trees that you have to hit around, under or over
- Lie in a divot
- Difficult lies in general that impede your progress towards the cup

If you’re in the ‘Danger Zone’ and your shot is impeded, your odds of having a ‘blowup hole’ have increased dramatically. What’s really tricky is let’s say you’re in the deep rough with a clear shot at the green, but 200 yards away.

Your brain will tell you to hit the shot and that it’s no big deal. But what may wind up happening, even to a Tour player, is that disaster happens at impact because of the club design and the tall grass. Then the face is hooded at impact and you hit the shot so far dead left that it gets into even worse trouble. Then what came off as a shot at hitting the green and making par has now turned into a situation where you’ll be lucky to take a bogey. I am not saying to not hit that shot, but it’s important to realize the possible dangers of that shot and making sure that it doesn’t happen.

It’s very important to understand that unless you have the magic of a Phil Mickelson or Bubba Watson, often times you can bit off way more than you can chew.

In fact, currently the PGA Tour average proximity to the cup on Danger Zone shots from the *rough* is about 57 feet. For those same shots from the fairway or teebox, it’s about 38 feet. A difference of nearly 20 feet.

So in the end, if you can spot the holes that are potential blowup holes, figure out why they are a blowup hole and understand the situations which could potentially be a blowup hole, you are now putting yourself in a position to avoid those big blowups that kill a round.


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