Now I know that some golfers like to take practice strokes (which can become good preview strokes) behind the ball while others take them right next to the ball (while in their setup position).
This applies to weekend golfers and PGA and LPGA Tour professionals alike. So regardless of skill level the goal of every golfer should be to build an escape strategy that not only gets you out of trouble but gets you into a better position than you would have been in had your last swing not been a bad one. This keeps the damage caused be a poor swing to less than a stroke.
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.
Once you’re successful from all three lies check the results which should look something like what’s pictured in the photo at right. What you’ll notice is that the shot from the rough rolled out the farthest — the mass of grass that wedged its way between the ball and the clubface at impact killed most of the backspin.
Keep track of your putting stats. If that’s too much to ask focus more on how the saw feels. If it boosts your confidence and trust in your stroke you’re onto something good and you’ll see it in your scores.
Bunkers left and right of the green are there to punish inaccuracy; heaven help the player who finds the sand on the right — he’ll face a huge change in elevation to a green running straight downhill from his line of flight. As I said Shinnecock is beauty and beast.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.