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.
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.
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.
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.
No. 4 is a slight dogleg right with a welcoming look off the tee. No matter which way or how hard the wind blows players will find getting their second shot on the green a breeze — the opening to the putting surface is about as wide as you’ll find at Shinnecock. Getting the ball in the hole is the tricky part. The green has only minor contours but they’re there and they must be read correctly for any shot at birdie.
This is not where you want to be especially during a major. To prove it I threw six balls into the grass in this area during my fall visit; the photo at right shows the only time I was able to lash the ball onto the green (and it eventually rolled off the back).
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.
Adding this grip-down motion to your arsenal isn’t a difficult change to make. As you can see in the photo above I’ve choked down about six inches and the only other changes I’ve made are to stand slightly closer to the ball and use a little more knee bend.
You don’t have to be perfect but you can’t do any of the important things badly. My advice? Believe in yourself. Becoming a great putter isn’t easy but it’s possible (Phil Mickelson at age 48 is enjoying the finest putting season in his career). Maintain a good hardworking attitude as you work through items 1 through 9. I’ve seen success stories happen thousands of times. Everyone is capable of improving.
And other golfers don’t take practice strokes at all. I’m simply recommending that you try the preview strokes I’ve described here and putt with your last thought being “That’s perfect!” rather than “I hope what I’ve been thinking feeling and doing are right.”
Keep track of your putting stats. If that’s too much to ask focus more on how the saw feels. If it boosts your confidence and trust in your stroke you’re onto something good and you’ll see it in your scores.
You can solve the problem in two easy steps: When your front foot is below your back foot take a normal stance with a “centered” ball position then move your lead foot down the hill and tilt your shoulders with the slope (see the photo below). Setting up this way delofts the club so use a higher-lofted wedge.