I’ve worked with a lot of Tour professionals over the years and they all use preview strokes. When dollars and self-esteem are on the line on every putt you go with any performance edge you can find. Believe me a preview stroke is a big one.
This is not where you want to be especially during a major. To prove it I threw six balls into the grass in this area during my fall visit; the photo at right shows the only time I was able to lash the ball onto the green (and it eventually rolled off the back).
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.
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.
From my testing over the last 10 years with amateurs in my schools and professionals on the PGA Tour the saw grip consistently provides superior results for putts inside 10 feet and good results for putts from 12 to 20 feet. But performance on long putts tends to be worse than with conventional grips.
As you can see the green is high in the back right and has more than four feet of elevation change down to the front-center. The putting surface slopes away from both the left- and right-side bunkers making it difficult to stop sand shots close to short-sided pins.
While it’s true that you need to pay attention to both the read and the speed neither one has to be perfect. You can make putts at any number of speeds as long as they’re reasonably matched to the appropriate line. The illustration at the top of the page proves why.
Again you don’t have to read the break or aim perfectly or even start your putts perfectly on line to make putts. But you do have to be close on both. You have to stroke your putts to roll at a close enough speed to match the break you played.
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.
The good news is just a minor change in your setup can help mitigate the worst effects of these new turf conditions on your downhill shots to the pin. Check out the photo above. When I’m faced with a fast downhill shot like this one (to say nothing about the ball also being above my feet) I take a normal practice swing from my normal address position then move my hands down to the bottom of the grip as I move in to hit the shot.
When I think of Shinnecock Hills two words come to mind: “national treasure.” As a researcher and golfer who has dedicated nearly four decades of his life to developing swing- and course-management strategies to help players shoot better scores it remains the ultimate test — if you can outthink this place you can outthink anyplace. I paid a visit to the William Flynn masterpiece last fall walking the fairways with my son Eddie and even playing a few shots. It was as vexing as ever.
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.