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.
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.
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.
Missing the green left or right will demand hitting a flop shot for your third — other short-game shots just won’t hold the green. And hitting lobs in a gusting wind is no picnic. You can sail long or come up short without notice.
Then for the next 25 seconds I watched the ball slowly amble away from me down the green and past the hole. It eventually rolled off the front of the green stopping only after it had traveled 10 yards back down the fairway. Unfair? Maybe. Difficult? Absolutely! But this is the U.S. Open. This is Shinnecock.
In both cases the key is to adjust your shoulders so that they sit parallel to the slope you’re standing on while maintaining good balance so you can swing through the shot. A good practice swing is essential so you can “see” where your swing is bottoming out and making a divot. Use the divot’s location to confirm that you’ve positioned the little white ball in the right spot (i.e. before your wedge strikes the big green one).
I’m simply saying that the same look and feel “previews” are as beneficial to your putting as they are to your short game especially when you consider the contours and speeds of today’s greens.
Of course my personal answer to the original question is “Yes I listened.” I obeyed what the slopes crowns contours wind green firmness and speed asked of me. I’ve been around the game a long time yet Shinnecock always teaches me something new.
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.
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.
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.
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.”