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.
At that time Shinnecock’s greens measured in the 4- to 5-foot range and even then they were considered outrageously sloped severely undulating and very difficult to putt. Come this June 14 these same greens will roll at 12-foot green-speeds requiring the most deft green reading and putting touches on earth. Good luck fellas.
Bunkers left and right of the green are there to punish inaccuracy; heaven help the player who finds the sand on the right — he’ll face a huge change in elevation to a green running straight downhill from his line of flight. As I said Shinnecock is beauty and beast.
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.
This change in grip position effectively shortens the clubshaft and takes a slight amount of power out of the swing making it a little easier to keep greenside shots under control.
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.
Like it or not green speeds have continued to increase over the last few years. With better grass better mowers and improved maintenance greens have become smoother and healthier nationwide — it’s not uncommon these days to find green speeds of 11 to 12 on high-end courses all over America.
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.
Even if a player hits two good shots there’s still the matter of sticking your approach in the right spot. Players better hope they’re not past or above the hole or that the ball hasn’t rolled into the back fringe or over the green because it’s darn near impossible to stop any pitch shot or putt in the opposite direction.
You often encounter shots from non-level stances on uneven contours around the greens which wreak havoc on your wedge results. Suddenly your wedge swing is bottoming out in a different spot relative to your stance and you may be at a loss as to where you should position the ball. Enter green-then-white contact and a heavy dose of extra strokes from short range.
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 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.