It took one token look at Chambers Bay to know that U.S. Open competitors were going to have to contend with some unfamiliar conditions -- and hit some uncommon shots.
Tight, hard-packed fairway grass blends seamlessly into most of the greens, making alternatives to traditional pitches and chips both possible and lower-risk.
That is, unless you don't judge shot weight quite right.
Bubba Watson found that out on his first hole. Presented with a clear lane to the green from 30 yards away, he picked a hybrid to bump along the ground like a long putt. His shot didn't make it all the way up the hill at the front of the green, and his ball snaked back 50 yards into a collection area. He couldn't get up-and-down the next time, either, and ended up making double bogey.
Top Alabama teacher Tony Ruggiero was at Chambers Bay earlier in the week, and saw a lot of players try in practice the shot Watson tried to pull off, with similar results. "Players would try that hybrid shot once or twice, but it they tended to lose control of the distance because the ball jumped up and started rolling with a lot of overspin," says Ruggiero, who was there with student Davis Riley, who will play at Alabama in the fall and made the field through local and sectional qualifying. "In those conditions, using the putter is probably the better option."
Your course might not look anything like Chambers Bay, but you can still adapt the same tricks. Instead of automatically reaching for your sand or lob wedge on greenside shots, go out and play a practice round and hit the same greenside shot with four or five different clubs. "You might be surprised which club consistently gets the ball the closest," says Ruggiero, who teaches at the Country Club of Mobile and Bay Point Resort in Panama City Beach, FL. "If you do decide to use the putter, keep in mind that the slopes closest to you are going to have much less impact on the speed and read than ones closer to the hole because the ball will be going a lot faster earlier.