No. 4 is a slight dogleg right with a welcoming look off the tee. No matter which way or how hard the wind blows players will find getting their second shot on the green a breeze — the opening to the putting surface is about as wide as you’ll find at Shinnecock. Getting the ball in the hole is the tricky part. The green has only minor contours but they’re there and they must be read correctly for any shot at birdie.
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.
I must warn you: The seventh hole features one of the most wicked green complexes you’ll ever find. It’ll play anywhere from 175 to 205 yards and to the largest green on the course. It’s a classic Redan — the putting surface slopes away from the tee box from a high point in the front-right section of the green to seven feet lower in the back-left.
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.
Regardless of skill level putting accounts for approximately 43 percent of your total strokes taking into account your good putting days and the ones where you’re ready to snap your flatstick over your knee. Lower this percentage and your scores will go down. Allocate at least one-third of your practice time to becoming the best putter you can be.
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 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.
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.
I take my cues from the game’s best putters who strive to never doubt the amount of break they plan to play after they’ve read the green. They commit to whatever amount of break they see and then try to match their putt speed to allow the ball to break that amount into the cup.
Taking these slopes into account players have but a 15- to 20-foot effective landing area depending on green and wind conditions from the tee box. It’s one of the hardest 160-yard tee shots you can imagine.
Although the saw grip falls into the “alternative” or “unconventional” category it may be the most natural hold of all because with the saw grip your right hand never strays from the correct impact position from start to finish.
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.