The only way to know if it’s right for you is through good old-fashioned experimentation: testing it out on short putts (six feet and three feet in a circle around the cup) medium-length putts (10- 20- and 30-footers); and then long lag putts (35 feet and longer).
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.
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.
You need two things to make breaking putts: 1) a stroke that starts the ball on your chosen line and 2) the correct amount of speed so the ball can hold that line all the way to the cup. Good line good speed—nailing one isn’t enough.
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.
Bunkers left and right of the green are there to punish inaccuracy; heaven help the player who finds the sand on the right — he’ll face a huge change in elevation to a green running straight downhill from his line of flight. As I said Shinnecock is beauty and beast.
So what do you do? You pick the shot type you want to hit and choose your wedge. Then you take preview swings near the ball to test the lie conditions and gauge the length of swing needed to knock the ball close.
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.
I attempted this shot during my fall visit to Shinnecock. I softly slipped a wide-open 64-degree wedge under the ball landing the shot just three feet in front of my lie. I played this shot as well as I could’ve played it.
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.
You often encounter shots from non-level stances on uneven contours around the greens which wreak havoc on your wedge results. Suddenly your wedge swing is bottoming out in a different spot relative to your stance and you may be at a loss as to where you should position the ball. Enter green-then-white contact and a heavy dose of extra strokes from short range.
The two keys to achieving this goal are to a) make sure your clubhead makes clean contact with the ball and b) select a safe escape route to your target that’s ahead of where you would have been with a better swing.