Even if a player hits two good shots there’s still the matter of sticking your approach in the right spot. Players better hope they’re not past or above the hole or that the ball hasn’t rolled into the back fringe or over the green because it’s darn near impossible to stop any pitch shot or putt in the opposite direction.
Sometimes poorly-struck putts go in and well-struck putts miss. Sometimes badly-read greens compensate for poorly struck putts. Results can confuse golfers when they don’t understand the true fundamentals of putting. Having the patience to learn to be a good putter is an incredible virtue for a golfer.
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.
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.
I take my cues from the game’s best putters who strive to never doubt the amount of break they plan to play after they’ve read the green. They commit to whatever amount of break they see and then try to match their putt speed to allow the ball to break that amount into the cup.
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.
You can clearly see my backswing impact and follow-through positions. (The ball in front of my clubhead illustrates my normal ball position while the ball behind the club is the ball position for my escape punch shot.)[image:13984441]
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.
And other golfers don’t take practice strokes at all. I’m simply recommending that you try the preview strokes I’ve described here and putt with your last thought being “That’s perfect!” rather than “I hope what I’ve been thinking feeling and doing are right.”
The beauty of the punch shot is that you can pull it off with any iron in your bag from 3-iron to pitching wedge which gives you a wide variety of distance options. Remember trouble is out there and you will find it. But now you have more than a puncher’s chance of keeping the damage to a minimum.
The green is the second-largest on the course with a consistent elevation drop of four feet from back to front (though mild undulations help channel shots toward the center of the green). Depending on the wind direction don’t be surprised to see some players swing driver here. It’s an absolute beast.
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!