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.
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.
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.
Once you’re successful from all three lies check the results which should look something like what’s pictured in the photo at right. What you’ll notice is that the shot from the rough rolled out the farthest — the mass of grass that wedged its way between the ball and the clubface at impact killed most of the backspin.
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.
Of course a lot of players will successfully avoid the trouble and land their tee shots on the green. Even in this scenario No. 7 can still derail a player’s hopes of winning the championship. In fact you can stick it to four feet and still have problems.
The goal of my visit was to paint a picture of the challenges that await the best players in the world so you can better appreciate the drama sure to unfold before your eyes during the playing of the 118th U.S. Open whether you’re there in person or catching it on TV.
While it’s true that you need to pay attention to both the read and the speed neither one has to be perfect. You can make putts at any number of speeds as long as they’re reasonably matched to the appropriate line. The illustration at the top of the page proves why.
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.
It’s not all purgatory. Many of Shinnecock’s greens are downright friendly with raised edges that funnel shots toward the center of the putting surface. Most however are shaped to repel shots away from the flagstick and in some cases off the green entirely. Be advised: every green features serious undulation. A few are so sloped that it’s impossible to imagine the ball stopping on its own.
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.
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.