Having the “touch” in your mind’s eye to know how firmly to stroke a putt (so its speed matches the break) and then also having the “feel” in your body to execute that touch is gained only through experience and solid practice. See No. 1.
The two bunkers on the left are much more manageable. From here you’re at least hitting into the slope of the green; unfortunately it’s also tilted severely from right to left. Expect anything but your garden-variety sand shot.
In both cases the key is to adjust your shoulders so that they sit parallel to the slope you’re standing on while maintaining good balance so you can swing through the shot. A good practice swing is essential so you can “see” where your swing is bottoming out and making a divot. Use the divot’s location to confirm that you’ve positioned the little white ball in the right spot (i.e. before your wedge strikes the big green one).
Start by analyzing your grip. Building a hold that gives you trust and confidence is critical. And despite what you may hear there are no guidelines to crafting the right putting grip for you. My mantra: “The best way to putt is with the grip and stroke that helps you hole the most putts while also avoiding 3-putts.”
As you can see the green is high in the back right and has more than four feet of elevation change down to the front-center. The putting surface slopes away from both the left- and right-side bunkers making it difficult to stop sand shots close to short-sided pins.
Which brings me to another of my deep-rooted tenets: you don’t have to use the same grip on all putts. Run your own test on the practice green. If the saw feels good on short and medium-length putts commit to it for 10 straight rounds.
You simply lay up 220 yards off the tee to the crest of the hill or roll a 5-wood or hybrid all the way down to the bottom and then either play a 190-yard 7-iron or 75-yard wedge shot to a nicely sized green. Two-putt for par. It looks — and seems — so simple.
Think about how you usually go about putting. You look at the green between the ball and the cup and “read” how much you think the putt will break on its way to the hole. You then make a few practice strokes and putt.
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 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.
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.
Of course you never get to tee up your wedge shots but that’s not the point. What this exercise teaches is how lie effects spin and that controlling spin is the trick to hitting short shots close. It’s an invaluable lesson. Try it from different distances using different wedges. The experience will turn you into a cagey vet in no time.