Then it hits you: “Wow what a tough hole!” At 484 yards it demands an accurate drive in the fairway and another 200-yard-plus shot uphill to an elevated green. Corey Pavin needed 4-wood to get home in two on No. 18 during the final round in 1995 en route to victory. Today’s players are a lot longer than Corey but so is the hole and there’s only so much you can bite off with your tee shot. The approach remains a bona fide killer.
The shot from the fairway stopped short of the first even though it landed in the same spot. That’s because you generated much more backspin due to the cleaner lie. And for the teed-up third ball which had zero grass on the clubface to interfere with contact you created max backspin and stopped the ball almost immediately after it hit the green.
For fun I walked to where PGA Tour ShotLink data says is the average miss distance on a shot taken by a Tour player from 260 yards of the target — about the yardage players will face in the Open on No. 2. This miss pattern puts the ball in the deep rough next to the bunker left of the green.
Few trees exist on the course to hinder the free movement of heavy air from Long Island Sound and the Atlantic Ocean to say nothing about the neighboring waters of Hampton Mecox and Bullhead bays (and the smaller Cold Spring Old Fort Middle and Far ponds).
And other golfers don’t take practice strokes at all. I’m simply recommending that you try the preview strokes I’ve described here and putt with your last thought being “That’s perfect!” rather than “I hope what I’ve been thinking feeling and doing are right.”
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.
And you don’t have to change the length of your motion — you can keep your stroke the same length as it normally is and still transfer less power to the ball. The shot will come out a little softer than normal but with the same characteristics: a little bite on the first bounce then a release and rollout down the slope.
The two keys to achieving this goal are to a) make sure your clubhead makes clean contact with the ball and b) select a safe escape route to your target that’s ahead of where you would have been with a better swing.
And it can be — under normal circumstances. It’s not too difficult if the course is playing soft and slow despite the fact that the green is seriously sloped elevated in relation to its surroundings and crowned at two-thirds of the way from the front. Its reputation as a monster stems from the fact that in 2004 the winds completely dried out the green and made it play extremely firm and fast.
The process is simple. During your warm-up on the range check the divots you carve with your wedges. Their position relative to your stance indicates the low point of your swing. If you position the ball slightly behind the middle of your typical divot you’ll begin hitting wedges like Tom Kite—one of the best wedge players the game has ever seen. Take a look at his action in the photo below.
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.
This is the natural position for nearly all golf swings except putting. The only reason you see my right hand in that position in the putting photo is that I’m using a saw grip. If I had started with a conventional grip and allowed my right hand to rotate into position as in the other two pictures my putterface would be dead shut and I probably would have missed the putt.