With two solid days of sun after early week soakings, Oakmont finally started to play with the firmness and speed on Saturday afternoon that the USGA had originally hoped for.
At a place where it's very difficult to hit it close -- and the greens are roller coasters of undulation -- speed control with the putter just got that much more important.
"When you're playing greens as fast as those, your putts are hit so slowly that gravity comes into play for a longer time whenever there's a slope," says Golf Digest 50 Best Teacher and short-game instructor Stan Utley. "The important skill is still the same. You have to be able to pick the high point of the break and let the ball work back to the hole, but at the Oakmont, the high points are much wider than they'd be anywhere else."
That means players have to be confident in their reads -- and often play feet of break instead of inches. "The amateur player's most common mistake, reading very little break and smashing it at the hole, just won't work," says Utley, who is based at Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale. "As soon as you see a few putts go way past the hole, the tendency is then to make the same big backstroke but slow down through the ball. That doesn't work either."
On quick surfaces, the best play is to use your same mechanics, but calibrate the size and speed of your stroke to the putt at hand. "Watching today," Utley says, "I'm seeing a lot of players use really short, slow backswings on the fast ones."
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