Shinnecock opens with a wide and fairly benign 399-yard par 4 (it played as the fourth-easiest hole during the 2004 U.S. Open). Then it slaps you in the face. Hard. No. 2 is a 250-yard-plus par 3 with sand on both sides of the green and serious rough in play off the left.
The beauty of the punch shot is that you can pull it off with any iron in your bag from 3-iron to pitching wedge which gives you a wide variety of distance options. Remember trouble is out there and you will find it. But now you have more than a puncher’s chance of keeping the damage to a minimum.
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.
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.
The danger is hitting your approach past the hole. Make this mistake and you’ll face one of the most challenging putts you can imagine. From the back-left to a front-right pin it’s a roller-coaster ride. Expect a lot of three-putts.
At our schools we incorporate rhythm into pre-putt rituals then carry that same rhythm through the stroke. Rhythm is the harbinger of consistency. You’ve got to find your own and groove it.
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.
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.”
If you execute about a dozen of these escape swings on the range every time you practice you’ll quickly learn how punch shots typically react after impact. It’s critical to know—and be able to control—how far these shots fly and roll out. There’s nothing worse than hitting an escape shot “perfectly” only to see it carry too far or roll into even greater trouble.
Like it or not green speeds have continued to increase over the last few years. With better grass better mowers and improved maintenance greens have become smoother and healthier nationwide — it’s not uncommon these days to find green speeds of 11 to 12 on high-end courses all over America.
Even among its major-venue brethren Shinnecock stands alone in its ability to squeeze every ounce of shotmaking savvy and heart from players’ games — a test hardwired into the course’s layout the slope and contour of the greens and the ever-present wind. When these elements combine — and you can bet they will — watch out.
When I think of Shinnecock Hills two words come to mind: “national treasure.” As a researcher and golfer who has dedicated nearly four decades of his life to developing swing- and course-management strategies to help players shoot better scores it remains the ultimate test — if you can outthink this place you can outthink anyplace. I paid a visit to the William Flynn masterpiece last fall walking the fairways with my son Eddie and even playing a few shots. It was as vexing as ever.