The tall grass at Shinnecock — here and all over the course — can be so severe that I’ve discussed with some players heading into this year’s Open the usually unthinkable option of taking an unplayable-lie penalty and dropping within two club-lengths if and when they find such a nasty patch of grass. As absurd as this idea may sound my experience proves it a viable shot-saving strategy.
Three putts are shown rolling to the hole on three different lines one ball width apart from the ball(s) next to it. Consider the center line as perfect and the others slightly imperfect. The middle ball is a guaranteed make. The others the “imperfect” ones? They’ll go in too because they’re close enough to perfect to catch the edge of the cup and lip-in.
This applies to weekend golfers and PGA and LPGA Tour professionals alike. So regardless of skill level the goal of every golfer should be to build an escape strategy that not only gets you out of trouble but gets you into a better position than you would have been in had your last swing not been a bad one. This keeps the damage caused be a poor swing to less than a stroke.
You can’t dominate with your putter if you don’t know how to aim it correctly or how much break to play. Nail these fundamentals first. If you hook or cut-spin your putts your chance of success goes down. If your putts roll off the face in the same direction your putter is heading immediately after impact that’s good. If your putter moves one way and the ball another you’ve got problems.
I must warn you: The seventh hole features one of the most wicked green complexes you’ll ever find. It’ll play anywhere from 175 to 205 yards and to the largest green on the course. It’s a classic Redan — the putting surface slopes away from the tee box from a high point in the front-right section of the green to seven feet lower in the back-left.
I’ve worked with a lot of Tour professionals over the years and they all use preview strokes. When dollars and self-esteem are on the line on every putt you go with any performance edge you can find. Believe me a preview stroke is a big one.
Raymond Floyd who grabbed his lone U.S Open here in 1986 recently tipped me off to this Shinnecock secret. If you moved every hole so that each tee box originated at the clubhouse you’d discover how Shinnecock forces you to play toward all points on the compass.
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.
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.
It’s not all purgatory. Many of Shinnecock’s greens are downright friendly with raised edges that funnel shots toward the center of the putting surface. Most however are shaped to repel shots away from the flagstick and in some cases off the green entirely. Be advised: every green features serious undulation. A few are so sloped that it’s impossible to imagine the ball stopping on its own.
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.
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.