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.
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.
To launch a good wedge shot it’s important to strike the little white ball (with the dimples) before you hit the big green one (the earth). And since every swing has a bottom to its arc you need to position the white orb just behind it so that your contact goes “white-then-green”—not vice versa.
That’s the saw’s primary advantage. It automatically removes any temptation to rotate the putterface through impact and almost assures a square strike. Granted the saw grip won’t work for everyone (remember we’re all different).
While it’s true that you need to pay attention to both the read and the speed neither one has to be perfect. You can make putts at any number of speeds as long as they’re reasonably matched to the appropriate line. The illustration at the top of the page proves why.
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.
Regardless of skill level putting accounts for approximately 43 percent of your total strokes taking into account your good putting days and the ones where you’re ready to snap your flatstick over your knee. Lower this percentage and your scores will go down. Allocate at least one-third of your practice time to becoming the best putter you can be.
Then for the next 25 seconds I watched the ball slowly amble away from me down the green and past the hole. It eventually rolled off the front of the green stopping only after it had traveled 10 yards back down the fairway. Unfair? Maybe. Difficult? Absolutely! But this is the U.S. Open. This is Shinnecock.
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.”
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.
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.
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.