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.
Here’s how it works: If you’re facing a short putt I want you to preview the short stroke you think will get the ball in the hole by physically replicating it from start to finish.
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.
And you don’t have to change the length of your motion — you can keep your stroke the same length as it normally is and still transfer less power to the ball. The shot will come out a little softer than normal but with the same characteristics: a little bite on the first bounce then a release and rollout down the slope.
The danger is hitting your approach past the hole. Make this mistake and you’ll face one of the most challenging putts you can imagine. From the back-left to a front-right pin it’s a roller-coaster ride. Expect a lot of three-putts.
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.
Granted this assumes that all putts are hit with perfect speed which for most purposes is one that carries the ball 17” past the hole in the event of a miss. Hit any harder the ball on the “high” line might lip-out. And with less speed the low ball would be more susceptible to the “lumpy donut” of footprints around the cup and tend to miss low.
I take my cues from the game’s best putters who strive to never doubt the amount of break they plan to play after they’ve read the green. They commit to whatever amount of break they see and then try to match their putt speed to allow the ball to break that amount into the cup.
Don’t just drop a few balls and putt without a plan: Do a few long putting drills to help you figure out the green speed and always include a short putting drill to keep that part of your game sharp. For wedge practice spend time grooving your wedge distances—you’ll be amazed at how quickly you start knocking down pins when you know exactly how far you can carry each wedge.
At the same time the existing contours and slopes on these greens have remained unchanged. This combination of smoother faster surfaces with consistent slopes (not to mention less aggressive grooves on your wedges thanks to rules changes) has made it crucial that golfers possess a soft deft touch with their short clubs if they want to successfully handle superfast downhill pitch and chip shots.
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.
Even if a player hits two good shots there’s still the matter of sticking your approach in the right spot. Players better hope they’re not past or above the hole or that the ball hasn’t rolled into the back fringe or over the green because it’s darn near impossible to stop any pitch shot or putt in the opposite direction.