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!
I’ve worked with a lot of Tour professionals over the years and they all use preview strokes. When dollars and self-esteem are on the line on every putt you go with any performance edge you can find. Believe me a preview stroke is a big one.
You simply lay up 220 yards off the tee to the crest of the hill or roll a 5-wood or hybrid all the way down to the bottom and then either play a 190-yard 7-iron or 75-yard wedge shot to a nicely sized green. Two-putt for par. It looks — and seems — so simple.
You don’t have to be perfect but you can’t do any of the important things badly. My advice? Believe in yourself. Becoming a great putter isn’t easy but it’s possible (Phil Mickelson at age 48 is enjoying the finest putting season in his career). Maintain a good hardworking attitude as you work through items 1 through 9. I’ve seen success stories happen thousands of times. Everyone is capable of improving.
Regardless of skill level putting accounts for approximately 43 percent of your total strokes taking into account your good putting days and the ones where you’re ready to snap your flatstick over your knee. Lower this percentage and your scores will go down. Allocate at least one-third of your practice time to becoming the best putter you can be.
If you currently don’t use a preview stroke try it — and give it a least a month. Always make your preview strokes while focusing on your aim line and visualizing the putt’s roll from start to finish.
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.
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.
Shinnecock opens with a wide and fairly benign 399-yard par 4 (it played as the fourth-easiest hole during the 2004 U.S. Open). Then it slaps you in the face. Hard. No. 2 is a 250-yard-plus par 3 with sand on both sides of the green and serious rough in play off the left.
Most also spend a majority of their warm-up and practice time grooving or rehearsing their full swings on the range; they may manage to get a few putts in but then it’s usually off to the course for an adventure-filled 18.
Having the “touch” in your mind’s eye to know how firmly to stroke a putt (so its speed matches the break) and then also having the “feel” in your body to execute that touch is gained only through experience and solid practice. See No. 1.
Madness! More than any other hole No. 10 rolls all of Shinnecock’s mysteries into one: elevation slope contour wind and firm and fast greens. From the tee box the 11th green looks relatively flat. That’s because you can’t see most of it.