And it can be — under normal circumstances. It’s not too difficult if the course is playing soft and slow despite the fact that the green is seriously sloped elevated in relation to its surroundings and crowned at two-thirds of the way from the front. Its reputation as a monster stems from the fact that in 2004 the winds completely dried out the green and made it play extremely firm and fast.
Can you believe that a relatively short downhill 415-yard par 4 — with no water out-of-bounds or obviously penal hazards — can play as the most-over-par hole in U.S. Open history? It looks so innocuous.
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.
Standing on the 18th tee at Shinnecock — with the fairway disappearing beautifully into the distance and the stately clubhouse on the horizon — is one of the singular thrills in golf. As I gazed upon this grand finale I thought of the players who will be taking in the same view come June 17 a possible United States Open Championship within their grasp. What a moment.
The worst miss however is long over the back of the green and down the hill behind it. From back there and even from the back fringe the green falls directly away from you — and fast! It’s almost not fair.
Then it hits you: “Wow what a tough hole!” At 484 yards it demands an accurate drive in the fairway and another 200-yard-plus shot uphill to an elevated green. Corey Pavin needed 4-wood to get home in two on No. 18 during the final round in 1995 en route to victory. Today’s players are a lot longer than Corey but so is the hole and there’s only so much you can bite off with your tee shot. The approach remains a bona fide killer.
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.
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.
You may also have noticed the unusual array of clubs and balls on the ground in front of me. What I’ve done is created five groups that together represent a typical round of 96 shots in terms of the number of shots hit with each type of club:
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.
This hole looks easy but plays downright nasty if the wind is up. From the fairway the green appears tame. What’s difficult to pick up is the severe extended false front the substantial runoffs to the right and left (into bunkers no less) a steep fall-off near the back and a gentle crown in the middle.
Drop one ball into the rough another into a normal fairway lie and tee up the third so it’s about a half-inch above the grass (photo above). The goal is to land all three shots in the same place on the green about a third of the way from the edge to the flagstick. (Repeat any shot that misses the landing spot.)