I have been fascinated by Shinnecock Hills since I was a kid, watching Corey Pavin’s 4-wood curling through space above the golden fescue and landing a few feet from the flag. It was further cemented by the massacre in 2004, where conditions were borderline unfair… except for the fact that everyone had to play under the same unfair conditions. I love the way this unassuming beauty brought the best in the world literally to tears. The Open returns to Shinnecock for 2018, and while all of the holes will obviously count, some will be crucial.
Here’s a breakdown of the holes that just might cause a breakdown for some of the players, and a couple that will give them a break.
Hole No. 1 (Par 4, 399 yards)
Like Merion and many other classic courses (other than Oakmont where it’s a death march from start to finish), number 1 at Shinnecock is a relatively benign hole. Long hitters will use less than driver and will still have a wedge into one of the most straightforward greens on the course. A rare birdie opportunity that must be taken advantage of.
Hole No. 2 (Par 3, 226 yards)
The longest par 3 on the course will hit the players in the face after the opening hole. It’s a long way uphill and if the wind is in their face it could take as much as a pro 3-wood to get to the green. As with most greens, staying below the hole is an imperative as there is a world of hurt behind.
Hole No. 6 (Par 4, 467 yards)
The No. 1 handicap hole on the course is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Hitting the fairway will not be hard for the pros but he second shot is one of the most demanding in championship golf. Players will have to accurately judge the speed and direction of a cross wind that will be howling on every part of the hole except where they are standing. The only water on the course guards the green along with a cadre of greenside bunkers. Short right will be a popular spot and there are no easy up and downs here. Par will feel like a birdie.
Hole No. 7 (Par 3, 194 yards)
Maybe best known for its conditions in the 2004 open when the green got totally burnt out and was virtually impossible to hit and hold. It was like a watching the Daytona 500 with an oil slick on the second turn and the bitching and moaning of the field immediately made the U.S. Open my favorite major. Even with grass on it, number 7 is no picnic. Nicknamed “The Redan”, a French term for a fortification, the hole defends itself with distance, the wind and a triangular, back-sloping green that as only a couple of reasonable pin placements. More than half the field each day will likely have a wedge in their hands for the second shot and if conditions go south look for numbers that will look like a description of Happy Hour (4 to 6).
Hole No. 9 (Par 4, 460 yards)
If Augusta has Amen Corner, then 9 through 11 at Shinnecock might be called “Hell’s Belles,” a breathtaking trio with a perfect combination of beauty and danger. The tee shot on nine seems easy, but you have to be in the fairway to be in position to go for the green. As with every hole at Shinnecock, a good sot is rewarded with an opportunity for another, in this instance a good tee shot will leave a short club into a green that is fairly large but perched about 50 feet above the players standing in the fairway and sloped back to front. Players unable to control their spin will find their third shots in waste areas and bunkers guarding the front of the hole, or maybe even back at their feet. Spectators will have a majestic view of the entire course from the green, including the red faces of those who don’t execute on this exacting test.
Hole No. 10 (Par 4, 420 yards)
This might be my favorite hole on the course. The tee shot presents plenty of fairway on the left but players in the know will aim over the fairway bunker on the right. The fairway and approach on 10 are evidence of why the course is called Shinnecock Hills. Finding the fairway on the left leaves a mid-iron into a turtle back green that is canted from back to front. Players who find the fairway right will take advantage of a drop that looks like it inspired a roller-coaster. A 40-foot speed slot means that there is only a wedge into the green and that’s where the fun begins. In 2004 players like Singh and Els saw multiple wedges go up the hill and back again like some sort of sadistic golf nursery rhyme. Singh fumed, “It’s hard to stop a shot on the hood of a VW.” Trying to play safe and hitting the back of the green will send players into a massive steep swale behind the green that will test the skill, imagination and nerve of the unfortunate souls who land there. At least a few will find themselves back in the fairway. This is a hole that, in the hands of the USGA, will humble all and humiliate some.
Hole No. 11 (Par 3, 154 yards)
The shortest par 3 on the course is small but mighty. An uphill tee shot to a green that is relatively large, but if you are on the wrong level of the two-tiered green a two putt will be as rare as finding a taxi in Manhattan rush hour. Players who card a 3 will be running to the next hole with a mix of joy and relief.
Hole No. 15 (Par 4, 430 yards)
This is downwind par 4 is the last of the “easy” birdie opportunities on the back nine. An accurate drive will leave a short iron to the green. If you relax and miss the green, it would be better left 9bunkers) than right close-shaven chipping area.
Hole No. 18 (Par 4, 460 yards)
This majestic closing hole is remembered for Corey Pavin’s heroics in 1995 but with its broad vistas and exacting layout, it is among the quintessential holes at Shinnecock. The ideal tee shot on the sweeping par-4 is to the right side of fairway. From there, a precise shot is needed into the elevated green that is guarded by wind, sand and fescue. Approaches that don’t have enough steam will roll back off of the green. Shots that go long will require a delicate chip or putt back onto the surface. This hole in many ways is what U.S. Open golf is all about: the course, the history, the player and the stage all combing for one magic moment. Worthy, indeed.
What’s going on with the decline in putting on the PGA Tour?
Watching the PGA Tour recently, I was struck by Frank Nobilo commenting on how professionals and their instructors work down to the smallest detail, a reflection on the intense competition on the PGA Tour and the fact that to be successful you cannot ignore anything. He made this comment with his thumb and forefinger barely not touching for emphasis.
That being the case, the numbers below should cause major introspection by every player and their coach. They are self-explanatory and have been verified by a third party expert who deals in putting data.
All figures are Shotlink data from the PGA Tour. To preclude undue influence by an anomaly years 2003-5 are averaged as are 2016-18
Average make percentage from 5 distances, 2003-2005 combined
- 6 FEET: 71.98 percent
- 8 FEET: 55.01 percent
- 10 FEET: 43.26 percent
- 15-20 FEET: 19.37 percent
- 25 FEET AND BEYOND: 5.96 percent
Average make percentage from the same 5 distances, 2015-2018
- 6 FEET: 70.43 percent
- 8 FEET: 53.54 percent
- 10 FEET: 41.39 percent
- 15-20 FEET: 18.80 percent
- 25 FEET AND BEYOND: 5.33 percent
- 6 FEET: 1.55 percent
- 8 FEET: 1.67 percent
- 10 FEET: 1.87 percent
- 15-20 FEET: .57 percent
- 25 FEET AND BEYOND: .83 percent
One comment, green conditions have been vetted to the point where they are not considered a culprit. Faster, yes, but pristine surfaces, and very consistent week to week. There are some outliers like the U.S. Open greens but they are included in the data shown and caused no significant spike for that week.
Further, on the subject of greens, today’s professional has booklets showing green patterns, high MOI putter heads, instruction from putting specialists, and caddies, expert green readers in their own right. Bottom line: if anything the greens help not hurt.
So your turn. Look at the data. Appoint yourself all-powerful guru to improve putting data. What would your plan, be? Oh and this little tidbit so you can earn a huge consulting fee: We took six players, three on either side of the halfway point, your solution resulted in a one-shot per TOURNAMENT improvement. Average INCREASE in earnings for the season: a smidge over $500K!
A merciful new local rule
This April, within a list of 2019 Rules Clarifications, the USGA and R&A quietly authorized a new Local Rule that you can expect to see enacted everywhere from the U.S. Open Championship to, if you’re lucky, your own club championship.
New Local Rule E-12 provides some protection from an unintended consequence of Rule 14.3c, which requires that your ball come to rest in the relief area for the drop you’re taking. When I first read about this option, I confess that I was a bit skeptical. But now that I’ve experienced the Local Rule in action, its value has become very clear.
My initial skepticism came from the fact that I like it that every time, we drop we now must drop in a relief area. I also like the simplicity of requiring the ball to come to rest in that relief area — no more awkward need to figure out if your ball stayed within two club lengths of the point where your drop first struck the course, as used to be the case. So right from the start, I was very comfortable with the new rules in this regard. But in some cases, particularly for those who haven’t carefully studied the revised rules, this simple approach has caused problems.
The freedom this new Local Rule provides applies exclusively to back-on-the-line relief drops, such as you might make from penalty areas or for unplayable balls. It’s a bit complicated, but let me take you through how it helps. We’ll use yellow-staked penalty areas as an example. Last year, for back-on-the-line drops such as these, you’d identify the point where your ball last crossed the margin of the water hazard and draw an imaginary line from the flagstick through that point, select a nice place to drop anywhere you chose back along that line, and then let it drop. If you picked a point sufficiently back, and your ball didn’t hit anything prohibited, and it didn’t stop more than two club lengths from where you dropped it, you were good to go.
This year, instead of dropping on that imaginary line, you drop in a relief area that surrounds that imaginary line. Just like before, you identify the edge of the penalty area where your ball last crossed, go back as far as you wish along an imaginary line from the flagstick through that point — but now you should identify a relief area around your selected drop location. To do so, you pick a point on the line, then define a relief area one club length from that point no closer to the hole. So you typically have a semicircle two club lengths in diameter in which to drop. If you drop a foot or two back from the front edge of the semicircle, there’s almost always no problem with the ball coming to rest outside the releif area and you’ll be ready to play. But if you drop right on the front edge of your defined relief area, or if you didn’t bother to identify a point/relief area along the imaginary line before you dropped, and your ball bounces and comes to rest even the slightest bit forward — it’s now outside the relief area and subject to a two-stroke or loss of hole penalty for playing from the wrong place if you end up hitting the ball before correcting your mistake.
That might seem kind of harsh — you take a back-on-the-line drop like you did last year, it bounces and stops an inch forward, you hit it — and you get severely penalized. If you had simply established the relief area an inch or two forward, things would have been perfectly legal! The 2019 rules, in their effort to simplify and make consistent the drop/relief procedure, created an unintended potential trap for players that weren’t careful enough managing their business. This seemed like it was going to be a big enough problem that the USGA and R&A decided to graciously do something about it: Introduce Model Local Rule E-12.
When this Local Rule is adopted, a player is given some additional freedom. If he or she applies the relief area/drop principles correctly, there is, of course, still no problem. But if he or she ends up with the ball somewhat outside the relief area, there still might be no penalty. As long as the ball originally struck the course within where the relief area should be, and as long as it didn’t come to rest more than one club length from where it first hit the course when dropped, you can still play it penalty-free (as long as it’s not nearer the hole than where the ball originally lay in the case of an unplayable ball drop, or nearer the hole than the edge of the penalty area where the ball last crossed for a penalty area drop).
While all that’s a bit complicated sounding, in practice it’s intuitive. And as an added bonus, it probably doesn’t matter if you don’t understand it or even know it’s in force — there are simply more occasions when you can blissfully, even ignorantly, play on penalty-free.
This new Local Rule provides another advantage as well. When it’s in effect, an opponent or ref (or a TV viewer) won’t have to concern themselves with whether or not the player making the drop actually followed the recommendation of first defining a relief area before making a back-on-the-line drop. If you’re at a distance, and you see a player taking a drop which bounces slightly forward, you can relax. You don’t have to wonder whether or not you should rush up and confirm that the ball didn’t squeak out of the player’s intended relief area in an effort to prevent the player from incurring a penalty. One way or another, everything is more than likely just fine.
With all that in mind, maybe you’d like to see the specific wording of E-12:
“When taking Back-On-the-Line relief, there is no additional penalty if a player plays a ball that was dropped in the relief area required by the relevant Rule (Rule 16.1c(2), 17.1d(2), 19.2b or 19.3b) but came to rest outside the relief area, so long as the ball, when played, is within one club-length of where it first touched the ground when dropped.
“This exemption from penalty applies even if the ball is played from nearer the hole than the reference point (but not if played from nearer the hole than the spot of the original ball or the estimated point where the ball last crossed the edge of the penalty area).
“This Local Rule does not change the procedure for taking Back-On-the-Line relief under a relevant Rule. This means that the reference point and relief area are not changed by this Local Rule and that Rule 14.3c(2) can be applied by a player who drops a ball in the right way and it comes to rest outside the relief area, whether this occurs on the first or second drop.”
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