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.
Even among its major-venue brethren Shinnecock stands alone in its ability to squeeze every ounce of shotmaking savvy and heart from players’ games — a test hardwired into the course’s layout the slope and contour of the greens and the ever-present wind. When these elements combine — and you can bet they will — watch out.
At my schools we preach the importance of the 20-foot putting stroke since 20 feet is the most common putt length in golf. So any student of mine facing a 15-foot putt on the course will preview some small adjustment to that 20-foot reference stroke during their pre-putt routine factoring in the other conditions of the putt that are computed as you read the green such as slope break grain wind etc.
Now I know that some golfers like to take practice strokes (which can become good preview strokes) behind the ball while others take them right next to the ball (while in their setup position).
It’s the same series of steps I followed for the putt in the photo at above right—a 25-foot downhiller on the seventh green at Shinnecock Hills. I read four feet of break from right to left. As such I aimed four feet right of the hole. After making a few practice strokes to dial in the correct speed I putted.
When you miss your putts should end up 17 inches past the hole. If you roll them faster you’ll suffer more lip-outs. Roll them slower and the ball will be knocked off line by imperfections (footprints pitch marks etc.) in the green.
You can solve the problem in two easy steps: When your front foot is below your back foot take a normal stance with a “centered” ball position then move your lead foot down the hill and tilt your shoulders with the slope (see the photo below). Setting up this way delofts the club so use a higher-lofted wedge.
Although the saw grip falls into the “alternative” or “unconventional” category it may be the most natural hold of all because with the saw grip your right hand never strays from the correct impact position from start to finish.
In my opinion the only way to develop this skill is through experience. Pros have the advantage of unlimited practice time but you can begin to catch up with a simple three-shot experiment that I use in my schools. Its entire purpose is to open your eyes to the various backspin outcomes that can be created by the type of lie you’re facing.
No. 4 is a slight dogleg right with a welcoming look off the tee. No matter which way or how hard the wind blows players will find getting their second shot on the green a breeze — the opening to the putting surface is about as wide as you’ll find at Shinnecock. Getting the ball in the hole is the tricky part. The green has only minor contours but they’re there and they must be read correctly for any shot at birdie.
Whenever you set up for this shot be sure to make a few practice swings to check the position of your scuff marks on the ground. At address you want your ball to be centered in the area that your clubhead normally scuffs which will give you the cleanest contact possible through impact. It’s not all automatic however — it’s still up to you to figure out how the ball will break and roll after it hits the green.
Of course you never get to tee up your wedge shots but that’s not the point. What this exercise teaches is how lie effects spin and that controlling spin is the trick to hitting short shots close. It’s an invaluable lesson. Try it from different distances using different wedges. The experience will turn you into a cagey vet in no time.