The seventh hole at Shinnecock Hills is the ultimate example of why you need to leave approach shots below the hole on severely sloping greens. As you watch the Open count how many times the players who end up above or right of the pin on No. 7 wind up three-putting. It was a pivotal hole in the 2004 U.S. Open. Expect more of the same this year.
Drop one ball into the rough another into a normal fairway lie and tee up the third so it’s about a half-inch above the grass (photo above). The goal is to land all three shots in the same place on the green about a third of the way from the edge to the flagstick. (Repeat any shot that misses the landing spot.)
Missing the green left or right will demand hitting a flop shot for your third — other short-game shots just won’t hold the green. And hitting lobs in a gusting wind is no picnic. You can sail long or come up short without notice.
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.
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.
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.
Add it all up and players are left with a miniscule effective landing area to stop shots near the flagstick. In 2004 No. 13 — the shortest par 4 on the course — surrendered only 54 birdies in 442 attempts.
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.
Adding to the difficulty is the fact that Shinnecock’s greens run faster than Flynn originally intended. Shortly after he redesigned the course in 1931 (Shinnecock dates back to 1891) the USGA began measuring how fast and far balls rolled on level putting surfaces calling the measurement “green speed.”
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.
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.
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.