Can you believe that a relatively short downhill 415-yard par 4 — with no water out-of-bounds or obviously penal hazards — can play as the most-over-par hole in U.S. Open history? It looks so innocuous.
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.
The 16th green is the third-smallest at Shinnecock and falls nearly five feet as it slopes continuously from back to front. Its gentle contouring will yield birdies and you can expect many of the bigger hitters to go for the green in two.
Taking these slopes into account players have but a 15- to 20-foot effective landing area depending on green and wind conditions from the tee box. It’s one of the hardest 160-yard tee shots you can imagine.
One of the things that separates Tour players from the rest of us is that the former are intimately familiar with their games. They know how different shots will unfold regardless of where the ball is sitting especially around the green (where difficult lies abound). Not surprisingly that’s where weekend players tend to cough up strokes.
Sometimes poorly-struck putts go in and well-struck putts miss. Sometimes badly-read greens compensate for poorly struck putts. Results can confuse golfers when they don’t understand the true fundamentals of putting. Having the patience to learn to be a good putter is an incredible virtue for a golfer.
This hole looks easy but plays downright nasty if the wind is up. From the fairway the green appears tame. What’s difficult to pick up is the severe extended false front the substantial runoffs to the right and left (into bunkers no less) a steep fall-off near the back and a gentle crown in the middle.
In both cases the key is to adjust your shoulders so that they sit parallel to the slope you’re standing on while maintaining good balance so you can swing through the shot. A good practice swing is essential so you can “see” where your swing is bottoming out and making a divot. Use the divot’s location to confirm that you’ve positioned the little white ball in the right spot (i.e. before your wedge strikes the big green one).
You’ve got a built-in safety net already because playing the ball slightly back delofts the club as does abbreviating your backswing and follow-through. Check the photo below for what the punch looks like.
Here’s your homework: On the green make the last couple of practice strokes with this (and only this) in mind. Focus on matching your speed to the break you read. You’ll start pouring ’em in from all over. And remember lip-ins count the same as ones hit dead in the center of the cup.
Don’t just drop a few balls and putt without a plan: Do a few long putting drills to help you figure out the green speed and always include a short putting drill to keep that part of your game sharp. For wedge practice spend time grooving your wedge distances—you’ll be amazed at how quickly you start knocking down pins when you know exactly how far you can carry each 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.