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.
To launch a good wedge shot it’s important to strike the little white ball (with the dimples) before you hit the big green one (the earth). And since every swing has a bottom to its arc you need to position the white orb just behind it so that your contact goes “white-then-green”—not vice versa.
And it can be — under normal circumstances. It’s not too difficult if the course is playing soft and slow despite the fact that the green is seriously sloped elevated in relation to its surroundings and crowned at two-thirds of the way from the front. Its reputation as a monster stems from the fact that in 2004 the winds completely dried out the green and made it play extremely firm and fast.
The two bunkers on the left are much more manageable. From here you’re at least hitting into the slope of the green; unfortunately it’s also tilted severely from right to left. Expect anything but your garden-variety sand shot.
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.
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.
The shot from the fairway stopped short of the first even though it landed in the same spot. That’s because you generated much more backspin due to the cleaner lie. And for the teed-up third ball which had zero grass on the clubface to interfere with contact you created max backspin and stopped the ball almost immediately after it hit the green.
The two keys to achieving this goal are to a) make sure your clubhead makes clean contact with the ball and b) select a safe escape route to your target that’s ahead of where you would have been with a better swing.
That’s the saw’s primary advantage. It automatically removes any temptation to rotate the putterface through impact and almost assures a square strike. Granted the saw grip won’t work for everyone (remember we’re all different).
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.
Three putts are shown rolling to the hole on three different lines one ball width apart from the ball(s) next to it. Consider the center line as perfect and the others slightly imperfect. The middle ball is a guaranteed make. The others the “imperfect” ones? They’ll go in too because they’re close enough to perfect to catch the edge of the cup and lip-in.