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.
My advice? Develop a reliable punch shot. This requires you to play the ball two inches back of center in your stance and make a half- or three-quarter swing. The overall feeling should be “together and compact” with solid lower-body control. Because the punch swing is compact the odds of producing clean contact go through the roof and that’s the first—and toughest—half of the battle!
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.
Of course a lot of players will successfully avoid the trouble and land their tee shots on the green. Even in this scenario No. 7 can still derail a player’s hopes of winning the championship. In fact you can stick it to four feet and still have problems.
At our schools we incorporate rhythm into pre-putt rituals then carry that same rhythm through the stroke. Rhythm is the harbinger of consistency. You’ve got to find your own and groove it.
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.
If you execute about a dozen of these escape swings on the range every time you practice you’ll quickly learn how punch shots typically react after impact. It’s critical to know—and be able to control—how far these shots fly and roll out. There’s nothing worse than hitting an escape shot “perfectly” only to see it carry too far or roll into even greater trouble.
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.
Keep track of your putting stats. If that’s too much to ask focus more on how the saw feels. If it boosts your confidence and trust in your stroke you’re onto something good and you’ll see it in your scores.
So what do you do? You pick the shot type you want to hit and choose your wedge. Then you take preview swings near the ball to test the lie conditions and gauge the length of swing needed to knock the ball close.
But hey don’t just take my word for it. Keep a written record of how many times you use each club over the next couple of rounds. That way you’ll know for sure what you should be focusing your practice efforts on. I can assure you that the more time you spend on the most frequent shots in your game the more they’ll improve and the faster your scores will drop.
Of course you never get to tee up your wedge shots but that’s not the point. What this exercise teaches is how lie effects spin and that controlling spin is the trick to hitting short shots close. It’s an invaluable lesson. Try it from different distances using different wedges. The experience will turn you into a cagey vet in no time.