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.
I’m eager to see which pros will do likewise; who will manage the conditions and warnings of Shinnecock while finding a way to maintain confidence. More than anything I’m anxious to see the course again and its magnificence. The Open doesn’t get any better than this.
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.
Drop one ball into the rough another into a normal fairway lie and tee up the third so it’s about a half-inch above the grass (photo above). The goal is to land all three shots in the same place on the green about a third of the way from the edge to the flagstick. (Repeat any shot that misses the landing spot.)
Taking these slopes into account players have but a 15- to 20-foot effective landing area depending on green and wind conditions from the tee box. It’s one of the hardest 160-yard tee shots you can imagine.
Although the saw grip falls into the “alternative” or “unconventional” category it may be the most natural hold of all because with the saw grip your right hand never strays from the correct impact position from start to finish.
The process is simple. During your warm-up on the range check the divots you carve with your wedges. Their position relative to your stance indicates the low point of your swing. If you position the ball slightly behind the middle of your typical divot you’ll begin hitting wedges like Tom Kite—one of the best wedge players the game has ever seen. Take a look at his action in the photo below.
You need two things to make breaking putts: 1) a stroke that starts the ball on your chosen line and 2) the correct amount of speed so the ball can hold that line all the way to the cup. Good line good speed—nailing one isn’t enough.
Even among its major-venue brethren Shinnecock stands alone in its ability to squeeze every ounce of shotmaking savvy and heart from players’ games — a test hardwired into the course’s layout the slope and contour of the greens and the ever-present wind. When these elements combine — and you can bet they will — watch out.
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.
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.
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.