From what I’ve seen over the years weekend golfers dedicate almost 90 percent of their practice time to their long games (that is to their irons and woods). They devote perhaps 5 to 10 percent of their serious practice time to their putting and they spend practically no time working on their wedge games.
As you can see the putter—by a large margin—is the most frequently used club in your bag while woods and wedges come in a close second. So here’s my question to you: Using this information is there a better way to apportion your practice time?
Shinnecock opens with a wide and fairly benign 399-yard par 4 (it played as the fourth-easiest hole during the 2004 U.S. Open). Then it slaps you in the face. Hard. No. 2 is a 250-yard-plus par 3 with sand on both sides of the green and serious rough in play off the left.
You may also have noticed the unusual array of clubs and balls on the ground in front of me. What I’ve done is created five groups that together represent a typical round of 96 shots in terms of the number of shots hit with each type of club:
My final plea in defense of the preview stroke is that you’re already tapping its power every time you play — you just don’t realize it. Picture this: You miss the green. When you consider the myriad conditions surrounding your lie you realize that the chip or pitch you now face is unlike any other you’ve ever attempted.
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.
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.
The danger is hitting your approach past the hole. Make this mistake and you’ll face one of the most challenging putts you can imagine. From the back-left to a front-right pin it’s a roller-coaster ride. Expect a lot of three-putts.
So what do you do? You pick the shot type you want to hit and choose your wedge. Then you take preview swings near the ball to test the lie conditions and gauge the length of swing needed to knock the ball close.
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.
Of course practicing ball position and wedge swings at the range isn’t exactly like launching scoring shots on the course. In practice every lie (or nearly every lie) is perfect. In actual rounds imperfect lies abound.
Like it or not green speeds have continued to increase over the last few years. With better grass better mowers and improved maintenance greens have become smoother and healthier nationwide — it’s not uncommon these days to find green speeds of 11 to 12 on high-end courses all over America.