Of course my personal answer to the original question is “Yes I listened.” I obeyed what the slopes crowns contours wind green firmness and speed asked of me. I’ve been around the game a long time yet Shinnecock always teaches me something new.
The good news is just a minor change in your setup can help mitigate the worst effects of these new turf conditions on your downhill shots to the pin. Check out the photo above. When I’m faced with a fast downhill shot like this one (to say nothing about the ball also being above my feet) I take a normal practice swing from my normal address position then move my hands down to the bottom of the grip as I move in to hit the shot.
I take my cues from the game’s best putters who strive to never doubt the amount of break they plan to play after they’ve read the green. They commit to whatever amount of break they see and then try to match their putt speed to allow the ball to break that amount into the cup.
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.
Madness! More than any other hole No. 10 rolls all of Shinnecock’s mysteries into one: elevation slope contour wind and firm and fast greens. From the tee box the 11th green looks relatively flat. That’s because you can’t see most of it.
Then for the next 25 seconds I watched the ball slowly amble away from me down the green and past the hole. It eventually rolled off the front of the green stopping only after it had traveled 10 yards back down the fairway. Unfair? Maybe. Difficult? Absolutely! But this is the U.S. Open. This is Shinnecock.
And not insignificantly — it’s six times more important. Even if your path is good unduly opening or closing the face at impact spells doom. Catching putts across the face produces varying ball speeds. Find one impact point. My recommendation: the sweet spot.
At that time Shinnecock’s greens measured in the 4- to 5-foot range and even then they were considered outrageously sloped severely undulating and very difficult to putt. Come this June 14 these same greens will roll at 12-foot green-speeds requiring the most deft green reading and putting touches on earth. Good luck fellas.
That’s right — I pulled an “o-fer.”I left three of the six shots in the rough and dribbled one into the bunker. The remaining ball? I assume it’s still burrowed somewhere deep in the fescue. I never found it.
Even if you aim perfectly to allow for the exact break of a putt if you then roll your ball too fast it will miss above the hole. And if you roll it too slowly it will likely miss below the cup.
Bunkers left and right of the green are there to punish inaccuracy; heaven help the player who finds the sand on the right — he’ll face a huge change in elevation to a green running straight downhill from his line of flight. As I said Shinnecock is beauty and beast.
Again you don’t have to read the break or aim perfectly or even start your putts perfectly on line to make putts. But you do have to be close on both. You have to stroke your putts to roll at a close enough speed to match the break you played.