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.
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.
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.
You’ve got a built-in safety net already because playing the ball slightly back delofts the club as does abbreviating your backswing and follow-through. Check the photo below for what the punch looks like.
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 beauty of the punch shot is that you can pull it off with any iron in your bag from 3-iron to pitching wedge which gives you a wide variety of distance options. Remember trouble is out there and you will find it. But now you have more than a puncher’s chance of keeping the damage to a minimum.
You OWN a pre-putt routine. That’s good — it’s essential to long-term success on the greens. I bet however that your routine (what you do after you’ve marked cleaned and replaced your ball) fails to include a preview stroke which is a practice stroke made with a clear intention of matching the length of your stroke to the putt you’re about to attempt.
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).
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 among its major-venue brethren Shinnecock stands alone in its ability to squeeze every ounce of shotmaking savvy and heart from players’ games — a test hardwired into the course’s layout the slope and contour of the greens and the ever-present wind. When these elements combine — and you can bet they will — watch out.
Here’s your homework: On the green make the last couple of practice strokes with this (and only this) in mind. Focus on matching your speed to the break you read. You’ll start pouring ’em in from all over. And remember lip-ins count the same as ones hit dead in the center of the cup.
My final plea in defense of the preview stroke is that you’re already tapping its power every time you play — you just don’t realize it. Picture this: You miss the green. When you consider the myriad conditions surrounding your lie you realize that the chip or pitch you now face is unlike any other you’ve ever attempted.