Regardless of which way it’s blowing players must deal with the wind at their backs in their faces and from the left and right in almost equal amounts. “Genius” says Floyd and I agree with him. More than any other major venue on American soil Shinnecock requires those who play it decipher the effects of the wind on every single shot independently. In other words Shinnecock plays no favorites.
The seventh hole at Shinnecock Hills is the ultimate example of why you need to leave approach shots below the hole on severely sloping greens. As you watch the Open count how many times the players who end up above or right of the pin on No. 7 wind up three-putting. It was a pivotal hole in the 2004 U.S. Open. Expect more of the same this year.
Have you ever taken a snapshot of one of your rounds? Say for example you just finished posting a 96. Have you ever actually taken the time to write down the clubs you used and how often you used them? You may not realize it but you can learn a lot about your game — and how to practice — from this information.
From behind the green the odds of stopping a return pitch close to the hole are long. In fact many attempts roll down the front side of the crown off the green down the fairway and all the way to the bottom of the hill 75 yards short of the green — right where the player started from.
Again you don’t have to read the break or aim perfectly or even start your putts perfectly on line to make putts. But you do have to be close on both. You have to stroke your putts to roll at a close enough speed to match the break you played.
The other half is finding a route to safety that maximizes the reliability of the punch. Assess your surroundings. To make sure you clear any low-hanging tree limbs choose the club with the greatest loft that will still safely launch your shot below the trouble and reach the target.
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.
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.
When you have a 35-foot or longer lag putt I advise you to take a long preview practice stroke that you “feel” will roll the ball stone-cold dead to the hole. In all cases if you don’t like the look or feel of your previews keep making them until your mind’s-eye tells you they’re perfect.
This applies to weekend golfers and PGA and LPGA Tour professionals alike. So regardless of skill level the goal of every golfer should be to build an escape strategy that not only gets you out of trouble but gets you into a better position than you would have been in had your last swing not been a bad one. This keeps the damage caused be a poor swing to less than a stroke.
Most also spend a majority of their warm-up and practice time grooving or rehearsing their full swings on the range; they may manage to get a few putts in but then it’s usually off to the course for an adventure-filled 18.
I’m eager to see which pros will do likewise; who will manage the conditions and warnings of Shinnecock while finding a way to maintain confidence. More than anything I’m anxious to see the course again and its magnificence. The Open doesn’t get any better than this.