It’s the same series of steps I followed for the putt in the photo at above right—a 25-foot downhiller on the seventh green at Shinnecock Hills. I read four feet of break from right to left. As such I aimed four feet right of the hole. After making a few practice strokes to dial in the correct speed I putted.
I’ve worked with a lot of Tour professionals over the years and they all use preview strokes. When dollars and self-esteem are on the line on every putt you go with any performance edge you can find. Believe me a preview stroke is a big one.
Sometimes poorly-struck putts go in and well-struck putts miss. Sometimes badly-read greens compensate for poorly struck putts. Results can confuse golfers when they don’t understand the true fundamentals of putting. Having the patience to learn to be a good putter is an incredible virtue for a golfer.
In my opinion the only way to develop this skill is through experience. Pros have the advantage of unlimited practice time but you can begin to catch up with a simple three-shot experiment that I use in my schools. Its entire purpose is to open your eyes to the various backspin outcomes that can be created by the type of lie you’re facing.
When I think of Shinnecock Hills two words come to mind: “national treasure.” As a researcher and golfer who has dedicated nearly four decades of his life to developing swing- and course-management strategies to help players shoot better scores it remains the ultimate test — if you can outthink this place you can outthink anyplace. I paid a visit to the William Flynn masterpiece last fall walking the fairways with my son Eddie and even playing a few shots. It was as vexing as ever.
For this “Backspin vs. Lie” experiment you’ll need your lob wedge a tee and three balls. Select a 20- to 30-yard shot around a green that forces you to carry a bunker but that provides plenty of room between the apron and the pin.
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.
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.
You often encounter shots from non-level stances on uneven contours around the greens which wreak havoc on your wedge results. Suddenly your wedge swing is bottoming out in a different spot relative to your stance and you may be at a loss as to where you should position the ball. Enter green-then-white contact and a heavy dose of extra strokes from short range.
And not insignificantly — it’s six times more important. Even if your path is good unduly opening or closing the face at impact spells doom. Catching putts across the face produces varying ball speeds. Find one impact point. My recommendation: the sweet spot.
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.
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.