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.
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.
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.
When you’re about to face a little longer putt say 12 to 15 feet I want you to preview the medium-length stroke you think will be perfect for the amount of break you’re playing.
No. 4 is a slight dogleg right with a welcoming look off the tee. No matter which way or how hard the wind blows players will find getting their second shot on the green a breeze — the opening to the putting surface is about as wide as you’ll find at Shinnecock. Getting the ball in the hole is the tricky part. The green has only minor contours but they’re there and they must be read correctly for any shot at birdie.
This change in grip position effectively shortens the clubshaft and takes a slight amount of power out of the swing making it a little easier to keep greenside shots under control.
It’s not all purgatory. Many of Shinnecock’s greens are downright friendly with raised edges that funnel shots toward the center of the putting surface. Most however are shaped to repel shots away from the flagstick and in some cases off the green entirely. Be advised: every green features serious undulation. A few are so sloped that it’s impossible to imagine the ball stopping on its own.
Again you don’t have to read the break or aim perfectly or even start your putts perfectly on line to make putts. But you do have to be close on both. You have to stroke your putts to roll at a close enough speed to match the break you played.
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.
Here’s how it works: If you’re facing a short putt I want you to preview the short stroke you think will get the ball in the hole by physically replicating it from start to finish.
For fun I walked to where PGA Tour ShotLink data says is the average miss distance on a shot taken by a Tour player from 260 yards of the target — about the yardage players will face in the Open on No. 2. This miss pattern puts the ball in the deep rough next to the bunker left of the green.
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.