Regardless of which way it’s blowing players must deal with the wind at their backs in their faces and from the left and right in almost equal amounts. “Genius” says Floyd and I agree with him. More than any other major venue on American soil Shinnecock requires those who play it decipher the effects of the wind on every single shot independently. In other words Shinnecock plays no favorites.
Then for the next 25 seconds I watched the ball slowly amble away from me down the green and past the hole. It eventually rolled off the front of the green stopping only after it had traveled 10 yards back down the fairway. Unfair? Maybe. Difficult? Absolutely! But this is the U.S. Open. This is Shinnecock.
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.
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.
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.
Although the saw grip falls into the “alternative” or “unconventional” category it may be the most natural hold of all because with the saw grip your right hand never strays from the correct impact position from start to finish.
Even among its major-venue brethren Shinnecock stands alone in its ability to squeeze every ounce of shotmaking savvy and heart from players’ games — a test hardwired into the course’s layout the slope and contour of the greens and the ever-present wind. When these elements combine — and you can bet they will — watch out.
And not insignificantly — it’s six times more important. Even if your path is good unduly opening or closing the face at impact spells doom. Catching putts across the face produces varying ball speeds. Find one impact point. My recommendation: the sweet spot.
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.
Few trees exist on the course to hinder the free movement of heavy air from Long Island Sound and the Atlantic Ocean to say nothing about the neighboring waters of Hampton Mecox and Bullhead bays (and the smaller Cold Spring Old Fort Middle and Far ponds).
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.
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.