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.
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.
The other half is finding a route to safety that maximizes the reliability of the punch. Assess your surroundings. To make sure you clear any low-hanging tree limbs choose the club with the greatest loft that will still safely launch your shot below the trouble and reach the target.
One of the things that separates Tour players from the rest of us is that the former are intimately familiar with their games. They know how different shots will unfold regardless of where the ball is sitting especially around the green (where difficult lies abound). Not surprisingly that’s where weekend players tend to cough up strokes.
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.
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.
Take a look at the photo again. Would it not make sense to consider modifying your practice routine based on what this snapshot is showing you? You should still warm up and activate your golf muscles but a wise move would be to devote a third of your practice time to your wedges and another third to your putting game. And be sure to conduct this practice with focus and purpose.
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.
Once set step in and repeat the preview in every detail. More importantly feel good about it. A preview should fill you with confidence. I have no doubt that if you give your putting previews your best effort everything about your putting will improve from your sense of feel and touch to your ability to roll it in from anywhere on the green.
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.
About 43 percent of all your strokes occur with a putter in your hands. That’s a hefty proportion considering you have 13 other clubs in your bag. Maybe it’s time to cut that percentage down and start making more putts.
Of course my personal answer to the original question is “Yes I listened.” I obeyed what the slopes crowns contours wind green firmness and speed asked of me. I’ve been around the game a long time yet Shinnecock always teaches me something new.