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.
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.
This is the natural position for nearly all golf swings except putting. The only reason you see my right hand in that position in the putting photo is that I’m using a saw grip. If I had started with a conventional grip and allowed my right hand to rotate into position as in the other two pictures my putterface would be dead shut and I probably would have missed the putt.
My advice? Develop a reliable punch shot. This requires you to play the ball two inches back of center in your stance and make a half- or three-quarter swing. The overall feeling should be “together and compact” with solid lower-body control. Because the punch swing is compact the odds of producing clean contact go through the roof and that’s the first—and toughest—half of the battle!
One of the things that separates Tour players from the rest of us is that the former are intimately familiar with their games. They know how different shots will unfold regardless of where the ball is sitting especially around the green (where difficult lies abound). Not surprisingly that’s where weekend players tend to cough up strokes.
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.
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.
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).
I must warn you: The seventh hole features one of the most wicked green complexes you’ll ever find. It’ll play anywhere from 175 to 205 yards and to the largest green on the course. It’s a classic Redan — the putting surface slopes away from the tee box from a high point in the front-right section of the green to seven feet lower in the back-left.
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.
While it’s true that you need to pay attention to both the read and the speed neither one has to be perfect. You can make putts at any number of speeds as long as they’re reasonably matched to the appropriate line. The illustration at the top of the page proves why.
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.