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.
Each picture—taken shortly after impact with a driver (left) pitching wedge (middle) and putter (right)—shows that my right hand is in almost the same position just after the strike: a little “on top” of the shaft and in-line with the target line.
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.
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.
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.
When you have a 35-foot or longer lag putt I advise you to take a long preview practice stroke that you “feel” will roll the ball stone-cold dead to the hole. In all cases if you don’t like the look or feel of your previews keep making them until your mind’s-eye tells you they’re perfect.
Of course practicing ball position and wedge swings at the range isn’t exactly like launching scoring shots on the course. In practice every lie (or nearly every lie) is perfect. In actual rounds imperfect lies abound.
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.
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.
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.
The only way to know if it’s right for you is through good old-fashioned experimentation: testing it out on short putts (six feet and three feet in a circle around the cup) medium-length putts (10- 20- and 30-footers); and then long lag putts (35 feet and longer).
My final plea in defense of the preview stroke is that you’re already tapping its power every time you play — you just don’t realize it. Picture this: You miss the green. When you consider the myriad conditions surrounding your lie you realize that the chip or pitch you now face is unlike any other you’ve ever attempted.