This is not where you want to be especially during a major. To prove it I threw six balls into the grass in this area during my fall visit; the photo at right shows the only time I was able to lash the ball onto the green (and it eventually rolled off the back).
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.
This isn’t a figment of my imagination. I see it every day on the pro tours and in my short-game and putting schools. Pitches and chips are harder to stop putts break more and roll farther and the difficulty of the scoring game around the greens continues to increase.
The green is the second-largest on the course with a consistent elevation drop of four feet from back to front (though mild undulations help channel shots toward the center of the green). Depending on the wind direction don’t be surprised to see some players swing driver here. It’s an absolute beast.
Most also spend a majority of their warm-up and practice time grooving or rehearsing their full swings on the range; they may manage to get a few putts in but then it’s usually off to the course for an adventure-filled 18.
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.
I think most golfers do about the same. Where some differ is in prioritizing the read over everything else. That’s where I emphasize the second-to-last step of the putting process: Matching the putt speed to the break.
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.
The other half is finding a route to safety that maximizes the reliability of the punch. Assess your surroundings. To make sure you clear any low-hanging tree limbs choose the club with the greatest loft that will still safely launch your shot below the trouble and reach the target.
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.
At the same time the existing contours and slopes on these greens have remained unchanged. This combination of smoother faster surfaces with consistent slopes (not to mention less aggressive grooves on your wedges thanks to rules changes) has made it crucial that golfers possess a soft deft touch with their short clubs if they want to successfully handle superfast downhill pitch and chip shots.
Standing on the 18th tee at Shinnecock — with the fairway disappearing beautifully into the distance and the stately clubhouse on the horizon — is one of the singular thrills in golf. As I gazed upon this grand finale I thought of the players who will be taking in the same view come June 17 a possible United States Open Championship within their grasp. What a moment.