Of course practicing ball position and wedge swings at the range isn’t exactly like launching scoring shots on the course. In practice every lie (or nearly every lie) is perfect. In actual rounds imperfect lies abound.
This isn’t a figment of my imagination. I see it every day on the pro tours and in my short-game and putting schools. Pitches and chips are harder to stop putts break more and roll farther and the difficulty of the scoring game around the greens continues to increase.
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.
Even if you aim perfectly to allow for the exact break of a putt if you then roll your ball too fast it will miss above the hole. And if you roll it too slowly it will likely miss below the cup.
The shot from the fairway stopped short of the first even though it landed in the same spot. That’s because you generated much more backspin due to the cleaner lie. And for the teed-up third ball which had zero grass on the clubface to interfere with contact you created max backspin and stopped the ball almost immediately after it hit the green.
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.
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.
Which brings me to another of my deep-rooted tenets: you don’t have to use the same grip on all putts. Run your own test on the practice green. If the saw feels good on short and medium-length putts commit to it for 10 straight rounds.
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.
For this “Backspin vs. Lie” experiment you’ll need your lob wedge a tee and three balls. Select a 20- to 30-yard shot around a green that forces you to carry a bunker but that provides plenty of room between the apron and the pin.
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.”
In the photo below I’m standing on the beautiful and meandering Shinnecock Hills G.C. site of last month’s U.S. Open. If you’ve never played Shinnecock before believe me when I tell you that for most weekend golfers shooting better than 96 on this course is an achievement!