It’s not all purgatory. Many of Shinnecock’s greens are downright friendly with raised edges that funnel shots toward the center of the putting surface. Most however are shaped to repel shots away from the flagstick and in some cases off the green entirely. Be advised: every green features serious undulation. A few are so sloped that it’s impossible to imagine the ball stopping on its own.
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.
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.
This hole looks easy but plays downright nasty if the wind is up. From the fairway the green appears tame. What’s difficult to pick up is the severe extended false front the substantial runoffs to the right and left (into bunkers no less) a steep fall-off near the back and a gentle crown in the middle.
I must warn you: The seventh hole features one of the most wicked green complexes you’ll ever find. It’ll play anywhere from 175 to 205 yards and to the largest green on the course. It’s a classic Redan — the putting surface slopes away from the tee box from a high point in the front-right section of the green to seven feet lower in the back-left.
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.
You don’t have to be perfect but you can’t do any of the important things badly. My advice? Believe in yourself. Becoming a great putter isn’t easy but it’s possible (Phil Mickelson at age 48 is enjoying the finest putting season in his career). Maintain a good hardworking attitude as you work through items 1 through 9. I’ve seen success stories happen thousands of times. Everyone is capable of improving.
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.
You can’t dominate with your putter if you don’t know how to aim it correctly or how much break to play. Nail these fundamentals first. If you hook or cut-spin your putts your chance of success goes down. If your putts roll off the face in the same direction your putter is heading immediately after impact that’s good. If your putter moves one way and the ball another you’ve got problems.
And you don’t have to change the length of your motion — you can keep your stroke the same length as it normally is and still transfer less power to the ball. The shot will come out a little softer than normal but with the same characteristics: a little bite on the first bounce then a release and rollout down the slope.
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.”
Then it hits you: “Wow what a tough hole!” At 484 yards it demands an accurate drive in the fairway and another 200-yard-plus shot uphill to an elevated green. Corey Pavin needed 4-wood to get home in two on No. 18 during the final round in 1995 en route to victory. Today’s players are a lot longer than Corey but so is the hole and there’s only so much you can bite off with your tee shot. The approach remains a bona fide killer.