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.”
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.
In the photo below I’m standing on the beautiful and meandering Shinnecock Hills G.C. site of last month’s U.S. Open. If you’ve never played Shinnecock before believe me when I tell you that for most weekend golfers shooting better than 96 on this course is an achievement!
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.
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.
Drop one ball into the rough another into a normal fairway lie and tee up the third so it’s about a half-inch above the grass (photo above). The goal is to land all three shots in the same place on the green about a third of the way from the edge to the flagstick. (Repeat any shot that misses the landing spot.)
The beauty of the punch shot is that you can pull it off with any iron in your bag from 3-iron to pitching wedge which gives you a wide variety of distance options. Remember trouble is out there and you will find it. But now you have more than a puncher’s chance of keeping the damage to a minimum.
When you miss your putts should end up 17 inches past the hole. If you roll them faster you’ll suffer more lip-outs. Roll them slower and the ball will be knocked off line by imperfections (footprints pitch marks etc.) in the green.
If you currently don’t use a preview stroke try it — and give it a least a month. Always make your preview strokes while focusing on your aim line and visualizing the putt’s roll from start to finish.
The other half is finding a route to safety that maximizes the reliability of the punch. Assess your surroundings. To make sure you clear any low-hanging tree limbs choose the club with the greatest loft that will still safely launch your shot below the trouble and reach the target.
You OWN a pre-putt routine. That’s good — it’s essential to long-term success on the greens. I bet however that your routine (what you do after you’ve marked cleaned and replaced your ball) fails to include a preview stroke which is a practice stroke made with a clear intention of matching the length of your stroke to the putt you’re about to attempt.
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.