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Opinion & Analysis

Shinnecock Hills and a Golf Pioneer

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There are a handful of courses throughout the United States that stand out as keepers and curators of golf history. Chief among those courses is Shinnecock Hills Golf Club. Founded in 1891, Shinnecock is four years older than the United States Golf Association and is one of the five founding member clubs of the USGA. As were many courses before the turn of the 20th century and many of the clubs in Scotland, Shinnecock was originally designed as a 12-hole course by architect Willie Davis, but six holes were added in the spring of 1895 with the anticipation of the following year’s U.S. Open.

In the second year of the USGA’s existence, it hosted by the Men’s U.S. Open and the Men’s U.S. Amateur in 1896. Since Shinnecock hosted its first U.S. Open, it has hosted several more USGA events over the past 122 years. The club’s championship resume includes U.S. Opens in 1896, 1986, 1995, 2004 and 2018, U.S. Amateurs in 1896 and 1900 (Women’s U.S. Amateur) and a Walker Cup in 1977.

The course we know today as Shinnecock is quite different from the original 12-hole design from 1891 by Mr. Davis. William Flynn conducted a complete redesign of the course prior to it being reopened for the 1931 season, bringing to life the natural topography and embedding the DNA of a true links course. And while the design history of both the course and clubhouse are remarkable, there are a few other details that make this course a pioneer in the golf history books.

John Shippen Jr. was born in Washington, D.C. in the winter of 1879 to John Shippen Sr. and Eliza Spotswood Shippen. His father was an African American Presbyterian Minister, and his mother was a Native American. Sometime in 1888, John Shippen Sr. was called to serve a congregation on the Shinnecock Indian Reservation just outside of the property that would soon become the famed golf course. When the course opened, John Jr. worked as a caddie. The club’s Scottish-born professional, Willie Dunn Jr., taught Shippen Jr. how to play the game.

As Shippen Jr. progressed, his golf game became superb. When the 1896 U.S. Open rolled around, several club members at Shinnecock offered to pay Shippen’s entry fee. At that time, golf was still an “exclusive” game in the U.S. and Shippen was allowed to enter the tournament only if he registered as a Native American along with another Native American caddie, Oliver Dunn. As one would expect in 1896, Shippen and Dunn’s registration sparked a minor racial controversy. When the other professionals found out Shippen and Dunn had entered the event and that they were not Caucasian, they threatened to boycott the event. When the USGA President at the time, Theodore Havemeyer, learned of the impending boycott, he informed the players that the tournament would continue even if it were only contested between Shippen and Dunn. The professionals backed down and play began.

Shippen Jr. made a name for himself that week as he finished fifth in the tournament and contested as a professional. He became the first African-American to tee it up in a U.S. Open, he also became the first American-born professional golfer.

John Shippen Jr. would go on to play in four more U.S. Opens in 1899, 1900, 1902 (where he finished fifth once again) and 1913. Shippen continued to live and work in the Shinnecock area until he retired from competition in 1924. In 1931, he became the head Professional and Greenskeeper at Shady Rest Golf and Country Club, the first African-American country club, where he worked until 1964.

Shippen would be the only African-American to compete in a U.S. Open until 1948 when Ted Rhodes qualified and entered the tournament. Shippen was barred from membership into the PGA of America because of its “Caucasian-only” clause, which was eradicated in 1961, only seven years before his death in 1968. It wasn’t until 2009 that the PGA of America bestowed posthumous membership to Shippen along with fellow African-American pioneers, Ted Rhodes and Bill Spiller.

Shinnecock was also a pioneer in another way. As with our country’s open race bias, turn of the century America had a clear opinion on the place women held in society. At the time the USGA was founded, it was incredibly difficult to find locations for women’s golf tournaments to take place. And even when they did find locations, the support they received from the local community and the course itself was diminished in comparison to their male counterparts. Not only was it difficult for women to host tournaments, it was nearly impossible to find a club where women could be members outside the “social” side of the memberships their husbands maintained. Shinnecock Hills, however, admitted women into its club from the day it was founded.

As we watch the U.S. Open this week, we’ll hear a lot about the conditions in 2004. We’ll hear a hundred times how the USGA had to water the seventh green in between groups on Sunday. We’ll see clips of Corey Pavin’s walk up No. 18 on Sunday in 1995 to win his first and only major championship. Maybe we’ll also see a little glimpse of the pioneer John Shippen Jr. and the first women members into the club.

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Adam Crawford is a writer of many topics but golf has always been at the forefront. An avid player and student of the game, Adam seeks to understand both the analytical side of the game as well as the human aspect - which he finds the most important. You can find his books at his website, chandlercrawford.com, or on Amazon.

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  1. Darren W McGowen

    Jun 13, 2018 at 1:06 pm

    It was Oscar Bunn, not Oliver Dunn.

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On Spec

On Spec Special Edition: Houston Open winner Lanto Griffin talks equipment

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In this special edition of On Spec, Ryan has the chance to interview recent PGA Tour winner Lanto Griffin. Lanto talks about what it’s like to stand over an event winning putt, finding the right wedges, and how testing gear sometimes happens right out of another player’s bag.

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes or here to listen on Spotify.

Want more GolfWRX Radio? Check out our other shows (and the full archives for this show) below. 

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Opinion & Analysis

The “70% Rule” is still the winning formula on the PGA Tour

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In June of 2010, a year before the Tour launched Strokes Gained Putting analysis, I published an article on my blog (www.NiblicksOfTruth.blogspot.com): “PGA Tour Winner’s – 70% Rule.”

I had been studying the winners of each tour event for years and realized that they all had specific success in three simple stats–and that the three stats must add up to 70 percent

  1. Greens in Regulation – 70%
  2. Scrambling – 70%
  3. 1-Putts from 5 to 10 feet – 70%

Not every one of the three had to equal 70 percent, but the simple addition of the three needed to equal or exceed 70 percent.  For example, if GIR’s were 68 percent, then scrambling or putting needed to be 72 percent or higher to offset the GIR deficiency—simple and it worked!

I added an important caveat. The player could have no more than three ERRORS in a four-round event. These errors being

  1. Long game: A drive hit out of play requiring an advancement to return to normal play, or a drive or approach penalty.
  2. Short game: A short game shot that a.) missed the putting surface, and b.) took 4 or more total strokes to hole out.
  3. Putting: A 3-putt or worse from 40 feet or closer.

In his recent win in the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open, Kevin Na broke the rule… by a bit.  He was all good on the 70 percent part of the rule

  1. GIR’s: 75 percent
  2. Scrambling: 72 percent
  3. 1-Putts 5-10 ft.: 73 percent

But not so good on the three-error limit

  1. Long game: Two driving errors and one approach penalty (three errors).
  2. Short game: A chip/pitch shot that missed the green and took FIVE strokes to hole out (one error).

No wonder it took a playoff to secure his win! But there was another stat that made the difference…

The stat that piqued my interest in Kevin’s win was connected to my 70 percent Rule.  It was his strokes gained: putting stat: +3.54, or ranked first.  He gained 3.5 strokes on the field in each of his four rounds or 14 strokes. I have never seen that, and it caused me to look closer. For perspective, I ran the putting performance of all of the event winners in the 2019 Tour season. Their average putting strokes gained was +1.17.

Below, I charted the one-putt percentages by distance range separately for Kevin Na, the 2019 winners, and the tour 2019 average. I have long believed that the 6–10 foot range separates the good putters on Tour from the rest as it is the most frequently faced of the “short putt” ranges and the Tour averages 50 percent makes. At the same time, the 11-20 foot ranges separate the winners each week as these tend to represent birdie putts on Tour. Look at what Kevin did there.

All I can say again, I HAVE NEVER SEEN THIS. Well done Kevin!

For the rest of us, in the chart below I have plotted Kevin’s performance against the “average” golfer (15-19 handicap). To see exactly how your game stacks up, visit my website.

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Instruction

The Wedge Guy: The importance of a pre-shot routine

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I believe one of the big differences between better recreational golfers and those not so good—and also between the tour professionals and those that can’t quite “get there”—is the consistency of their pre-shot routines. It is really easy to dismiss something that happens before the ball is even struck as irrelevant, but I strongly urge you to reconsider if you think this way.

To have a set routine to follow religiously before every shot gives you the best chance to execute the shot the way you intend. To do otherwise just leaves too much to chance. Indulge me here and I’ll offer you some proof.

It’s been a while back now, but I still remember an interesting account on this subject that used the final round of the 1996 Masters—when Nick Faldo passed a collapsing Norman—as his statistical proof. This particular analyst reviewed the entire telecast of that final round and timed the routine of both players for every shot. What he discovered was that Norman got quicker and less consistent in his pre-shot routine throughout his round, while Faldo maintained his same, methodical approach to every shot, not varying by more than a second or so. I think that is pretty insightful stuff.

A lot of time has passed since then, but all competitive tour professionals pay very close attention to their pre-shot routines these days. I urge you to watch them as they go through the motions before each shot. And notice that most of them “start over” if they get distracted during that process.

While I do not think it is practical for recreational golfers to go into such laborious detail for every shot, let me offer some suggestions as to how a repeatable pre-shot routine should work.

The first thing is to get a good feel for the shot, and by that, I mean a very clear picture in your mind of how it will fly, land and roll; I also think it’s realistic to have a different routine for full shots, chips and pitches and putts. They are all very different challenges, of course, and as you get closer to the hole, your focus needs to be more on the feel of the shot than the mechanics of the swing, in my opinion.

To begin, I think the best starting point is from behind the ball, setting up in your “mind’s eye” the film-clip of the shot you are about to hit. See the flight and path it will take. As you do this, you might waggle the club back and forth to get a feel of the club in your hands and “feel” the swing that will produce that shot path for you. Your exact routine can start when you see that shot clearly, and begin your approach the ball to execute the shot. From that “trigger point”, you should do the exact same things, at the exact same pace, each and every time.

For me (if I’m “on”), I’ll step from that behind-the-shot position, and set the club behind the ball to get my alignment. Then I step into my stance and ball position, not looking at the target, but being precise not to change the alignment of the clubhead–I’m setting my body up to that established reference. Once set, I take a look at the target to ensure that I feel aligned properly, and take my grip on the club. Then I do a mental check of grip pressure, hover the club off the ground a bit to ensure it stays light, and then start my backswing, with my only swing thought being to feel the end of the backswing.

That’s when I’m “on,” of course. But as a recreational player, I know that the vast majority of my worst shots and rounds happen when I depart from that routine.

This is something that you can and should work on at the range. Don’t just practice your swing, but how you approach each shot. Heck, you can even do that at home in your backyard. So, guys and ladies, there’s my $0.02 on the pre-shot routine. What do you have to add?

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