You OWN a pre-putt routine. That’s good — it’s essential to long-term success on the greens. I bet however that your routine (what you do after you’ve marked cleaned and replaced your ball) fails to include a preview stroke which is a practice stroke made with a clear intention of matching the length of your stroke to the putt you’re about to attempt.
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.
Regardless of which way it’s blowing players must deal with the wind at their backs in their faces and from the left and right in almost equal amounts. “Genius” says Floyd and I agree with him. More than any other major venue on American soil Shinnecock requires those who play it decipher the effects of the wind on every single shot independently. In other words Shinnecock plays no favorites.
Few trees exist on the course to hinder the free movement of heavy air from Long Island Sound and the Atlantic Ocean to say nothing about the neighboring waters of Hampton Mecox and Bullhead bays (and the smaller Cold Spring Old Fort Middle and Far ponds).
You may also have noticed the unusual array of clubs and balls on the ground in front of me. What I’ve done is created five groups that together represent a typical round of 96 shots in terms of the number of shots hit with each type of club:
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
To launch a good wedge shot it’s important to strike the little white ball (with the dimples) before you hit the big green one (the earth). And since every swing has a bottom to its arc you need to position the white orb just behind it so that your contact goes “white-then-green”—not vice versa.