That’s right — I pulled an “o-fer.”I left three of the six shots in the rough and dribbled one into the bunker. The remaining ball? I assume it’s still burrowed somewhere deep in the fescue. I never found it.
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.
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.
Of course my personal answer to the original question is “Yes I listened.” I obeyed what the slopes crowns contours wind green firmness and speed asked of me. I’ve been around the game a long time yet Shinnecock always teaches me something new.
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.
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 not insignificantly — it’s six times more important. Even if your path is good unduly opening or closing the face at impact spells doom. Catching putts across the face produces varying ball speeds. Find one impact point. My recommendation: the sweet spot.
You may also have noticed the unusual array of clubs and balls on the ground in front of me. What I’ve done is created five groups that together represent a typical round of 96 shots in terms of the number of shots hit with each type of club:
The goal of my visit was to paint a picture of the challenges that await the best players in the world so you can better appreciate the drama sure to unfold before your eyes during the playing of the 118th U.S. Open whether you’re there in person or catching it on TV.
Sometimes poorly-struck putts go in and well-struck putts miss. Sometimes badly-read greens compensate for poorly struck putts. Results can confuse golfers when they don’t understand the true fundamentals of putting. Having the patience to learn to be a good putter is an incredible virtue for a golfer.
From what I’ve seen over the years weekend golfers dedicate almost 90 percent of their practice time to their long games (that is to their irons and woods). They devote perhaps 5 to 10 percent of their serious practice time to their putting and they spend practically no time working on their wedge games.
Granted this assumes that all putts are hit with perfect speed which for most purposes is one that carries the ball 17” past the hole in the event of a miss. Hit any harder the ball on the “high” line might lip-out. And with less speed the low ball would be more susceptible to the “lumpy donut” of footprints around the cup and tend to miss low.