Keeping the wheels on your game can be quite a trip

Sometimes the wheels fall off out there after you hit a bad shot or two.

But then there are the times where the wheels don’t just fall off – they explode and your round goes hurtling over a cliff.

How do you stop before it’s a disaster?

I went online to try to get some answers after a day that left me shaken. How could I be so good and then be SO bad?

The answers on various websites and blogs were predictable.

The big thing that was emphasized over and over was tempo. Slow down. Follow your preshot routine. Take a three-quarter swing on every shot to reduce the chances of big mistakes.

But they all agreed on one basic tenet: Our great game is the most difficult mental test in sports. It’s all you. You have no help – no teammate to bail you out by taking a swing or two for you, no coach to help you unless a playing partner has a pointer (which sometimes can hurt more than it helps).

What gets me about goofy golf – or bozo golf, as I call it – is how shots that aren’t that bad can lead to shots that are horrific. My recent disaster is the classic example.

I had just knocked one in for birdie from a greenside bunker, a shot made more challenging by the presence of water beyond the hole. I was rolling through seven holes, playing one of my best rounds in awhile.

My drive on No. 8, a par-5, was strong but just a little left and found its way into another bunker. To make matters worse, there was a man-made mound right in front of my ball. But no problem – I took a 7-iron and simply wanted to get it back in play.

Then it happened.

Because of that stupid mound, I couldn’t complete the swing. I had to just make contact and stop. What happens when you do that? Simple. The ball goes left. Sometimes the ball goes WAY left.

And that’s what happened to me. It’s such a helpless feeling, watching your ball sail out of play. You wish you were fishing and you could just reel it in, then try again.

I was able to find it in an unplayable lie, so I took my penalty and my drop and had a 4-iron left. There was water to the right of the green – didn’t want to go there. I focused on staying left and just trying to make a bogey.

I hit it well but just a little offline … to the right, unfortunately. It landed just off the green and, sure enough, barely trickled into the drink. Another penalty, a chip and two putts later, I had a triple bogey.

My drive on the ninth hole wasn’t that bad, either, but it leaked a little right on a course where you have to keep it on the short grass. A lost ball. A double bogey. A good front nine ruined.

And then it happened … and happened … and happened. On every hole, I did just enough bad or kind of bad things to make a big number. It was the worst nine-hole score I’ve had since I was a youngster.

I drove home wondering, “Do I go to the range right now? Tomorrow? Do I play another round as soon as possible?”

Then I heard something on TV that combines those two ideas and makes a lot of sense.

During the telecast of The Open Championship at Royal Portrush, Nick Faldo was talking about how he practices. He said he mentally plays each hole on the course by first hitting a drive, then the appropriate club he would be using on the second shot, and so on.

Genius. I like to keep track of my fairways hit and greens in regulation, and here’s a way to do that on the range. Plus it requires some imagination, so it can be a little fun, too.

I can’t guarantee that a practice routine will prevent another disaster. But I’m curious what my “score” on the range will be next time I practice.

One good thing: If the wheels fall off out there, the only thing it might cost me is another bucket of balls.

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