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.
This isn’t a figment of my imagination. I see it every day on the pro tours and in my short-game and putting schools. Pitches and chips are harder to stop putts break more and roll farther and the difficulty of the scoring game around the greens continues to increase.
Madness! More than any other hole No. 10 rolls all of Shinnecock’s mysteries into one: elevation slope contour wind and firm and fast greens. From the tee box the 11th green looks relatively flat. That’s because you can’t see most of it.
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.
I’m eager to see which pros will do likewise; who will manage the conditions and warnings of Shinnecock while finding a way to maintain confidence. More than anything I’m anxious to see the course again and its magnificence. The Open doesn’t get any better than this.
The process is simple. During your warm-up on the range check the divots you carve with your wedges. Their position relative to your stance indicates the low point of your swing. If you position the ball slightly behind the middle of your typical divot you’ll begin hitting wedges like Tom Kite—one of the best wedge players the game has ever seen. Take a look at his action in the photo below.
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.
When you’re about to face a little longer putt say 12 to 15 feet I want you to preview the medium-length stroke you think will be perfect for the amount of break you’re playing.
At the same time the existing contours and slopes on these greens have remained unchanged. This combination of smoother faster surfaces with consistent slopes (not to mention less aggressive grooves on your wedges thanks to rules changes) has made it crucial that golfers possess a soft deft touch with their short clubs if they want to successfully handle superfast downhill pitch and chip shots.
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.
My final plea in defense of the preview stroke is that you’re already tapping its power every time you play — you just don’t realize it. Picture this: You miss the green. When you consider the myriad conditions surrounding your lie you realize that the chip or pitch you now face is unlike any other you’ve ever attempted.
And it can be — under normal circumstances. It’s not too difficult if the course is playing soft and slow despite the fact that the green is seriously sloped elevated in relation to its surroundings and crowned at two-thirds of the way from the front. Its reputation as a monster stems from the fact that in 2004 the winds completely dried out the green and made it play extremely firm and fast.