Like it or not green speeds have continued to increase over the last few years. With better grass better mowers and improved maintenance greens have become smoother and healthier nationwide — it’s not uncommon these days to find green speeds of 11 to 12 on high-end courses all over America.
Whenever you set up for this shot be sure to make a few practice swings to check the position of your scuff marks on the ground. At address you want your ball to be centered in the area that your clubhead normally scuffs which will give you the cleanest contact possible through impact. It’s not all automatic however — it’s still up to you to figure out how the ball will break and roll after it hits the green.
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.
It’s not unusual for Shinnecock Hills to be swept by strong and gusting winds. What makes the design unusual is the way Flynn laid out the course to incorporate the breeze as a significant part of its challenge.
In both cases the key is to adjust your shoulders so that they sit parallel to the slope you’re standing on while maintaining good balance so you can swing through the shot. A good practice swing is essential so you can “see” where your swing is bottoming out and making a divot. Use the divot’s location to confirm that you’ve positioned the little white ball in the right spot (i.e. before your wedge strikes the big green one).
The danger is hitting your approach past the hole. Make this mistake and you’ll face one of the most challenging putts you can imagine. From the back-left to a front-right pin it’s a roller-coaster ride. Expect a lot of three-putts.
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.
You may also have noticed the unusual array of clubs and balls on the ground in front of me. What I’ve done is created five groups that together represent a typical round of 96 shots in terms of the number of shots hit with each type of club:
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.
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.
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.
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.