From behind the green the odds of stopping a return pitch close to the hole are long. In fact many attempts roll down the front side of the crown off the green down the fairway and all the way to the bottom of the hill 75 yards short of the green — right where the player started from.
The danger is hitting your approach past the hole. Make this mistake and you’ll face one of the most challenging putts you can imagine. From the back-left to a front-right pin it’s a roller-coaster ride. Expect a lot of three-putts.
Now I know that some golfers like to take practice strokes (which can become good preview strokes) behind the ball while others take them right next to the ball (while in their setup position).
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 you never get to tee up your wedge shots but that’s not the point. What this exercise teaches is how lie effects spin and that controlling spin is the trick to hitting short shots close. It’s an invaluable lesson. Try it from different distances using different wedges. The experience will turn you into a cagey vet in no time.
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.
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.
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.
At our schools we incorporate rhythm into pre-putt rituals then carry that same rhythm through the stroke. Rhythm is the harbinger of consistency. You’ve got to find your own and groove it.
Raymond Floyd who grabbed his lone U.S Open here in 1986 recently tipped me off to this Shinnecock secret. If you moved every hole so that each tee box originated at the clubhouse you’d discover how Shinnecock forces you to play toward all points on the compass.
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).
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.