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.
We all have different stroke mechanics to say nothing about hand sizes and body rhythms so the best grip for you may well be different from anyone else’s. That’s fine. But before you start tinkering take a look at the photos below.
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.)
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.
The worst miss however is long over the back of the green and down the hill behind it. From back there and even from the back fringe the green falls directly away from you — and fast! It’s almost not fair.
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.
Standing on the 18th tee at Shinnecock — with the fairway disappearing beautifully into the distance and the stately clubhouse on the horizon — is one of the singular thrills in golf. As I gazed upon this grand finale I thought of the players who will be taking in the same view come June 17 a possible United States Open Championship within their grasp. What a moment.
Take a look at the photo again. Would it not make sense to consider modifying your practice routine based on what this snapshot is showing you? You should still warm up and activate your golf muscles but a wise move would be to devote a third of your practice time to your wedges and another third to your putting game. And be sure to conduct this practice with focus and purpose.
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).
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.
Missing the green left or right will demand hitting a flop shot for your third — other short-game shots just won’t hold the green. And hitting lobs in a gusting wind is no picnic. You can sail long or come up short without notice.
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.