The seventh hole at Shinnecock Hills is the ultimate example of why you need to leave approach shots below the hole on severely sloping greens. As you watch the Open count how many times the players who end up above or right of the pin on No. 7 wind up three-putting. It was a pivotal hole in the 2004 U.S. Open. Expect more of the same this year.
Having the “touch” in your mind’s eye to know how firmly to stroke a putt (so its speed matches the break) and then also having the “feel” in your body to execute that touch is gained only through experience and solid practice. See No. 1.
I’m eager to see which pros will do likewise; who will manage the conditions and warnings of Shinnecock while finding a way to maintain confidence. More than anything I’m anxious to see the course again and its magnificence. The Open doesn’t get any better than this.
And other golfers don’t take practice strokes at all. I’m simply recommending that you try the preview strokes I’ve described here and putt with your last thought being “That’s perfect!” rather than “I hope what I’ve been thinking feeling and doing are right.”
And it can be — under normal circumstances. It’s not too difficult if the course is playing soft and slow despite the fact that the green is seriously sloped elevated in relation to its surroundings and crowned at two-thirds of the way from the front. Its reputation as a monster stems from the fact that in 2004 the winds completely dried out the green and made it play extremely firm and fast.
You simply lay up 220 yards off the tee to the crest of the hill or roll a 5-wood or hybrid all the way down to the bottom and then either play a 190-yard 7-iron or 75-yard wedge shot to a nicely sized green. Two-putt for par. It looks — and seems — so simple.
When I think of Shinnecock Hills two words come to mind: “national treasure.” As a researcher and golfer who has dedicated nearly four decades of his life to developing swing- and course-management strategies to help players shoot better scores it remains the ultimate test — if you can outthink this place you can outthink anyplace. I paid a visit to the William Flynn masterpiece last fall walking the fairways with my son Eddie and even playing a few shots. It was as vexing as ever.
You need two things to make breaking putts: 1) a stroke that starts the ball on your chosen line and 2) the correct amount of speed so the ball can hold that line all the way to the cup. Good line good speed—nailing one isn’t enough.
I think most golfers do about the same. Where some differ is in prioritizing the read over everything else. That’s where I emphasize the second-to-last step of the putting process: Matching the putt speed to the break.
Adding to the difficulty is the fact that Shinnecock’s greens run faster than Flynn originally intended. Shortly after he redesigned the course in 1931 (Shinnecock dates back to 1891) the USGA began measuring how fast and far balls rolled on level putting surfaces calling the measurement “green speed.”
Add it all up and players are left with a miniscule effective landing area to stop shots near the flagstick. In 2004 No. 13 — the shortest par 4 on the course — surrendered only 54 birdies in 442 attempts.
If you execute about a dozen of these escape swings on the range every time you practice you’ll quickly learn how punch shots typically react after impact. It’s critical to know—and be able to control—how far these shots fly and roll out. There’s nothing worse than hitting an escape shot “perfectly” only to see it carry too far or roll into even greater trouble.