My advice? Develop a reliable punch shot. This requires you to play the ball two inches back of center in your stance and make a half- or three-quarter swing. The overall feeling should be “together and compact” with solid lower-body control. Because the punch swing is compact the odds of producing clean contact go through the roof and that’s the first—and toughest—half of the battle!
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.
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.
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.
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.
Most also spend a majority of their warm-up and practice time grooving or rehearsing their full swings on the range; they may manage to get a few putts in but then it’s usually off to the course for an adventure-filled 18.
When you have a 35-foot or longer lag putt I advise you to take a long preview practice stroke that you “feel” will roll the ball stone-cold dead to the hole. In all cases if you don’t like the look or feel of your previews keep making them until your mind’s-eye tells you they’re perfect.
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.
This is not where you want to be especially during a major. To prove it I threw six balls into the grass in this area during my fall visit; the photo at right shows the only time I was able to lash the ball onto the green (and it eventually rolled off the back).
Once you’re successful from all three lies check the results which should look something like what’s pictured in the photo at right. What you’ll notice is that the shot from the rough rolled out the farthest — the mass of grass that wedged its way between the ball and the clubface at impact killed most of the backspin.
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.
The worst miss however is long over the back of the green and down the hill behind it. From back there and even from the back fringe the green falls directly away from you — and fast! It’s almost not fair.