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.
Shinnecock opens with a wide and fairly benign 399-yard par 4 (it played as the fourth-easiest hole during the 2004 U.S. Open). Then it slaps you in the face. Hard. No. 2 is a 250-yard-plus par 3 with sand on both sides of the green and serious rough in play off the left.
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.
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.
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.
Taking these slopes into account players have but a 15- to 20-foot effective landing area depending on green and wind conditions from the tee box. It’s one of the hardest 160-yard tee shots you can imagine.
Can you believe that a relatively short downhill 415-yard par 4 — with no water out-of-bounds or obviously penal hazards — can play as the most-over-par hole in U.S. Open history? It looks so innocuous.
Adding to the difficulty is the fact that Shinnecock’s greens run faster than Flynn originally intended. Shortly after he redesigned the course in 1931 (Shinnecock dates back to 1891) the USGA began measuring how fast and far balls rolled on level putting surfaces calling the measurement “green speed.”
You simply lay up 220 yards off the tee to the crest of the hill or roll a 5-wood or hybrid all the way down to the bottom and then either play a 190-yard 7-iron or 75-yard wedge shot to a nicely sized green. Two-putt for par. It looks — and seems — so simple.
You don’t have to be perfect but you can’t do any of the important things badly. My advice? Believe in yourself. Becoming a great putter isn’t easy but it’s possible (Phil Mickelson at age 48 is enjoying the finest putting season in his career). Maintain a good hardworking attitude as you work through items 1 through 9. I’ve seen success stories happen thousands of times. Everyone is capable of improving.
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).
Having the “touch” in your mind’s eye to know how firmly to stroke a putt (so its speed matches the break) and then also having the “feel” in your body to execute that touch is gained only through experience and solid practice. See No. 1.