The tall grass at Shinnecock — here and all over the course — can be so severe that I’ve discussed with some players heading into this year’s Open the usually unthinkable option of taking an unplayable-lie penalty and dropping within two club-lengths if and when they find such a nasty patch of grass. As absurd as this idea may sound my experience proves it a viable shot-saving strategy.
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.
Once set step in and repeat the preview in every detail. More importantly feel good about it. A preview should fill you with confidence. I have no doubt that if you give your putting previews your best effort everything about your putting will improve from your sense of feel and touch to your ability to roll it in from anywhere on the green.
Think about how you usually go about putting. You look at the green between the ball and the cup and “read” how much you think the putt will break on its way to the hole. You then make a few practice strokes and putt.
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.
And other golfers don’t take practice strokes at all. I’m simply recommending that you try the preview strokes I’ve described here and putt with your last thought being “That’s perfect!” rather than “I hope what I’ve been thinking feeling and doing are right.”
The only way to know if it’s right for you is through good old-fashioned experimentation: testing it out on short putts (six feet and three feet in a circle around the cup) medium-length putts (10- 20- and 30-footers); and then long lag putts (35 feet and longer).
It’s the same series of steps I followed for the putt in the photo at above right—a 25-foot downhiller on the seventh green at Shinnecock Hills. I read four feet of break from right to left. As such I aimed four feet right of the hole. After making a few practice strokes to dial in the correct speed I putted.
This is the natural position for nearly all golf swings except putting. The only reason you see my right hand in that position in the putting photo is that I’m using a saw grip. If I had started with a conventional grip and allowed my right hand to rotate into position as in the other two pictures my putterface would be dead shut and I probably would have missed the putt.
The two keys to achieving this goal are to a) make sure your clubhead makes clean contact with the ball and b) select a safe escape route to your target that’s ahead of where you would have been with a better swing.
One of the things that separates Tour players from the rest of us is that the former are intimately familiar with their games. They know how different shots will unfold regardless of where the ball is sitting especially around the green (where difficult lies abound). Not surprisingly that’s where weekend players tend to cough up strokes.
From behind the green the odds of stopping a return pitch close to the hole are long. In fact many attempts roll down the front side of the crown off the green down the fairway and all the way to the bottom of the hill 75 yards short of the green — right where the player started from.