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.
Here’s your homework: On the green make the last couple of practice strokes with this (and only this) in mind. Focus on matching your speed to the break you read. You’ll start pouring ’em in from all over. And remember lip-ins count the same as ones hit dead in the center of the cup.
Raymond Floyd who grabbed his lone U.S Open here in 1986 recently tipped me off to this Shinnecock secret. If you moved every hole so that each tee box originated at the clubhouse you’d discover how Shinnecock forces you to play toward all points on the compass.
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.
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:
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.
From what I’ve seen over the years weekend golfers dedicate almost 90 percent of their practice time to their long games (that is to their irons and woods). They devote perhaps 5 to 10 percent of their serious practice time to their putting and they spend practically no time working on their wedge games.
The 16th green is the third-smallest at Shinnecock and falls nearly five feet as it slopes continuously from back to front. Its gentle contouring will yield birdies and you can expect many of the bigger hitters to go for the green in two.
You’ve got a built-in safety net already because playing the ball slightly back delofts the club as does abbreviating your backswing and follow-through. Check the photo below for what the punch looks like.
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!
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.
Don’t just drop a few balls and putt without a plan: Do a few long putting drills to help you figure out the green speed and always include a short putting drill to keep that part of your game sharp. For wedge practice spend time grooving your wedge distances—you’ll be amazed at how quickly you start knocking down pins when you know exactly how far you can carry each wedge.