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.
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.
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.
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.”
Although the saw grip falls into the “alternative” or “unconventional” category it may be the most natural hold of all because with the saw grip your right hand never strays from the correct impact position from start to finish.
So what do you do? You pick the shot type you want to hit and choose your wedge. Then you take preview swings near the ball to test the lie conditions and gauge the length of swing needed to knock the ball close.
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.
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.
I think most golfers do about the same. Where some differ is in prioritizing the read over everything else. That’s where I emphasize the second-to-last step of the putting process: Matching the putt speed to the break.
This hole looks easy but plays downright nasty if the wind is up. From the fairway the green appears tame. What’s difficult to pick up is the severe extended false front the substantial runoffs to the right and left (into bunkers no less) a steep fall-off near the back and a gentle crown in the middle.
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.
My final plea in defense of the preview stroke is that you’re already tapping its power every time you play — you just don’t realize it. Picture this: You miss the green. When you consider the myriad conditions surrounding your lie you realize that the chip or pitch you now face is unlike any other you’ve ever attempted.