I attempted this shot during my fall visit to Shinnecock. I softly slipped a wide-open 64-degree wedge under the ball landing the shot just three feet in front of my lie. I played this shot as well as I could’ve played it.
From what I’ve seen over the years weekend golfers dedicate almost 90 percent of their practice time to their long games (that is to their irons and woods). They devote perhaps 5 to 10 percent of their serious practice time to their putting and they spend practically no time working on their wedge games.
Adding this grip-down motion to your arsenal isn’t a difficult change to make. As you can see in the photo above I’ve choked down about six inches and the only other changes I’ve made are to stand slightly closer to the ball and use a little more knee bend.
Start by analyzing your grip. Building a hold that gives you trust and confidence is critical. And despite what you may hear there are no guidelines to crafting the right putting grip for you. My mantra: “The best way to putt is with the grip and stroke that helps you hole the most putts while also avoiding 3-putts.”
The other half is finding a route to safety that maximizes the reliability of the punch. Assess your surroundings. To make sure you clear any low-hanging tree limbs choose the club with the greatest loft that will still safely launch your shot below the trouble and reach the target.
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.
The 16th green is the third-smallest at Shinnecock and falls nearly five feet as it slopes continuously from back to front. Its gentle contouring will yield birdies and you can expect many of the bigger hitters to go for the green in two.
You can solve the problem in two easy steps: When your front foot is below your back foot take a normal stance with a “centered” ball position then move your lead foot down the hill and tilt your shoulders with the slope (see the photo below). Setting up this way delofts the club so use a higher-lofted wedge.
This hole will surrender its fair share of birdies but not to those who find the sand off the tee. The bunkers short and right of the green sit 12 feet below the putting surface. Good luck.
And other golfers don’t take practice strokes at all. I’m simply recommending that you try the preview strokes I’ve described here and putt with your last thought being “That’s perfect!” rather than “I hope what I’ve been thinking feeling and doing are right.”
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.
The seventh hole at Shinnecock Hills is the ultimate example of why you need to leave approach shots below the hole on severely sloping greens. As you watch the Open count how many times the players who end up above or right of the pin on No. 7 wind up three-putting. It was a pivotal hole in the 2004 U.S. Open. Expect more of the same this year.