Green reading is a critical skill in becoming a better player and yet few golfers activity seek lessons to improve their green reading skills. In this article I’ll cover my top tips for green reading and some simple strategies to help you hole more putts.
General slope & local slope
The first step when approaching a putt is to understand which way the putt will break. We all know the ball will want to travel downhill as it moves across the green (due to gravity) but knowing how much it will break is what separates great green readers from those golfer who are puzzled as the ball misses the hole 3-feet right (we’ve all been there).
A great strategy is to break green reading down into a two-step process. First assess the overall slope of the green – as you walk up to the green notice if the left side of the green is higher than the right, does the green slope towards you or run away from you.
Second, when you reach your golf ball bend down behind your putt and read the precise slopes, humps and bumps your putt will travel over as it reaches the hole. The key is to add these two pieces of information together: General break + local break = true break.
Many golfers forego the first step and are bemused as their putt does not travel in the intended direction. The local slope should always be at the front of your mind when seeing the best line to start your putt on, but always consider the general slope of the green, as it can neutralise the break you see or add to it.
Once you have these two pieces of information you may find it helpful to visualise the golf ball burning a track in the green as it rolls into the hole (black dotted line above).
Considering pace and line
Once you have this information you can start selecting your desired pace and line. Nearly all breaking putts have multiple ways they could be holed. I feel strongly that great putters look for their preferred pace and line, rather than obsessing over finding the perfect line – such a perfect line do not exist, as the ideal line is always be dependent on the pace a putt is hit.
Admittedly, understanding pace and line combinations takes some practice, but practicing breaking putts inside 10-feet and varying the pace you use to hit putts is a brilliant way for developing this concept of pace and line. You can read about some great ways to practice your putting in this article on putting drills.
The video below shows a simple left-to-right 10-foot putt. You can see that the amount of break is almost double when hit at a slow pace compared to a fast pace.
I ask my players to practice all types of pace and line combinations, then when in competition choose the option they feel most comfortable with. For fast, downhill putts you can select an option with a slow pace and lots of break, meaning if you miss the hole you don’t have a 6-foot putt coming back up the hill.
However, when my confidence is high I will frequently take a much straighter line with more pace – from many years of practice I know I hole far more putts this way. Take time to practice holing putts with a slow, medium and fast pace, work out your optimum solution and use this on the golf course.
The middle of the hole for breaking putts
Once you have chosen your ideal pace and line it is time to focus on where the middle of the hole will be relative to the direction your ball will be approaching the hole. This is a small, but very important detail for becoming great at holing breaking putts.
Many golfers see the middle of the hole as the point directly in front of them, instead of where the ball will be approaching the hole from. This misconception causes many amateur golfers to under-read putts by 1.5 to 2 inches and miss many putts on the low-side of the hole.
To practice this concepts and to build an intuition for the true centre of the hole place two tees just narrower than a hole-width at the angle your ball will be approaching from. Practice short, breaking putts with a focus on the ball entering the hole between the tee pegs. Check out the video below to see just how setup this drill – you’ll be amazed how these two tee pegs will quickly change your ability to hole breaking putts.
See if you can hole 3 putts in a row from 3-feet, then move back to 6-feet, 9-feet and 12-feet repeating this process.
Perfecting the start direction of your putts
The second factor causing golfers to miss putts on the low-side is their alignment and subsequent start direction. Our eyes like to fixate on targets and hit towards those target. Many golfers, unknowingly, fixate on the apex of the putt – the highest point the golf ball should reach. However, this is different from the true starting direction.
If there is any break on the green before the ball reaches its apex, the start line will be different to the apex of the putt. See the image below, on a 10-foot putt there can often be a 3 to 4 inch different between the ideal start line and the apex of the putt.
As the picture above shows, a golfer who aims at the apex will hit a putt that never gets high enough and will frequently miss low of the hole. Instead, see the line of your putt burnt into the green (red line), then align your body and putter face to the ideal angle to start the golf ball on its journey down the red line.
A top tip – the difference between the apex and start direction is greatest when putts have a lot of break early on (the first 2-3 feet). When you face a putt that has a lot of break early on, place even greater emphasis on start direction as the ball will quickly fall away from this point.
How putting technique affects your green reading
Players with poor putting strokes are commonly poor at reading greens. This is not due to a lack of ability to putt, but instead the role feedback plays in learning how to read greens. Learning how to read greens relies on hitting putts on a given line, at a given pace and getting feedback on the result.
If your putting stroke launches the ball with too much variability (line or pace), you will never get clear feedback on the true break a putt has. This is bad for your putting, but also limits you ability to become a great green reader.
Check out this article on putting technique for a guide on how to built a solid putting stroke.
What else can you do to get better at reading greens?
Vision is the body’s number one sensory system from planning and controlling movement. However, every golfer still needs to learn how to interpret this visual information.
Consider a beginner golfer and Tiger Woods crouching down behind an 18-foot sloping putt on the 18th green at Bay Hill. Both will have the same visual information in front of them, but the information will mean very different things to Tiger and the beginner golfer.
This highlights the cognitive aspect of green reading – yes you have to take in information (read the green), but your body has to interpret what the information means and plan the best pace and line. Like any skill this is developed via practice.
Once you have a sound putting stroke, head to the practice green with the sole purpose of getting better at reading greens. You can ignore holing putts and just play around hitting medium and long putts and observing how good your read is. You can also make this fun by seeing what crazy putts you can find to practice your green reading skills. Every putt should involve taking in the information and seeing how well you can plan what the golf ball will do.
Once you have played around with longer putts practice seeing how softly and firmly you can hole the putts inside 10-feet, explore all the pace and line options that are available to hole short putts. Write down which options lead to you holing the largest percentage of putts.
Along with vision you can also feel the slope through your feet. Shutting your eyes and standing behind putts may give more information about which way a green is sloping. Walking along the line of the putt can also give a sense of slopes under foot.
Learning how to read greens is similar to the process of throwing or kicking a ball. It should be an unconscious understanding of how to control distance and trajectory, not a complex mathematical procedure. For that reason I personally don’t feel complex charts and systems are the best way to learn green reading.
Instead keep it simple and have fun learning this skill. Your aim is to get to the stage where you just see it or feel it. You may see a tracking line on the green like I do, you may just instinctively know where you need to aim – this is the individual road to becoming an expert, everyones path is different.
How to read greens – Summary
Green reading is a skill that all golfers should spend time developing. This article has shown you how you can use the general green slope and local slope to help build a picture of breaking putts. If you frequently miss putts low, try out the tee drill for finding the true centre of the hole and ensure you aim with start direction in mind rather than the apex of the putt.
The number one take away for all golfers should be an understanding that there is not one perfect line for most putts, rather a whole range of solutions depending on pace. Taking this idea forward should change your perception of green reading and help you hole more putts in practice and in play.
As always, thanks for having a read, I hope this has been of help. If you would like an article like this one emailed to you every Monday, come join the Golf Insider weekly post.
Happy golfing – Will @ Golf Insider UK
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