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Read Putting Greens Like the Pros

by Frank Peter

Putting is a combination of the mind, reading and execution. I have maintained my 12 handicap over the last twenty years simply by increasing my prowess on the green, while age has negatively impacted most of the other parts of my game.

A golf green is like a book, not a sentence. If you are on a strange course and didn't take a couple minutes on the practice green, it is like you are opening up a mystery novel at chapter 14 instead of the first page. That's fine if you want to learn the "plot" during the next few chapters/greens, but your score and countenance will reflect your early confusion.
Let us assume that you took a little time on the practice green before assaulting the course. Do not try to fix flaws in your putting technique during your few minutes practicing. Instead, determine two things: 1) The speed of the green (stimp) 2) How much the ball breaks at that green speed.
So instead of concentrating on draining putts, get a solid feel for the speed. Try various distances along with uphill, downhill and side hill. Remember how much your ball breaks on your regular course. The amount of break for the same grade on a different course is linear with the difference in speed.
Read Putting Greens Like the Pros Example: If you have to putt 20% softer on this different course, your ball will break 20% more for a given length of putt. Why? Gravity has that much more time to pull your ball downhill because you had to hit it slower. A ten-inch break on your home course will now break twelve inches.

Ok, we are on the course and you have hit the green with your approach shot. As you walk toward the green, take in the whole scene. Greens are built to shed water, not to hold it and have water pool every time the green is watered or when it rains. There is a scheme to remove water from all greens. Look over the whole green to see where to water will run off. This can be more than one place. Hint: On hilly or mountainous courses, 95% of the time water will flow away from the hill.
If there is a pond, stream, etc. near the green, the water run-off scheme will almost always be designed to allow water to eventually drain to it. Ever hear the phrase, "Breaks toward the water"?
Greens are also generally built to make us feel good, so most will have a slant toward the tee box in order to better hold approach shots. Beware of the slope of the green near greenside bunkers. There will normally be some slope away from the bunker for a distance.

Now you are on the green and "reading". I always walk all the way up the line, read from behind the hole, then walk down the other side of the line and read from behind the ball towards the hole. Your feet and balance during this trek will tell you more than any other thing. If I have any questions remaining, I have no problem trampling right up my line to get a better feel. Let us be honest. When is that last time a footprint deflected your ball?
Hopefully one or more of the other players in your group will have to putt before you. Caution: All putting strokes are different. Some players cut the ball, some hook, some bounce or backspin, some decelerate. But watching all these putts will help you. It doesn't matter if they are on your line or not. The most value you get will be watching what happens to their balls around the hole. Example: If someone putts well off your line and the ball slows quickly, his putt was uphill and yours will have to break toward him at the hole.

Other terrific clues to help you determine the slant of the green along your line are background structures and terrain. Look for houses, lakes, ocean, and horizon. All of these are true to the world.
Early in the day, you may still have dew on the greens for several holes, even after they were mowed. The marks left in the dew by previous putts will help to some extent. You will not be able to tell if these putts were blown by the hole in many cases, so just get the trend from the marks.
We need to address grain of the grass. My opinion of grain: Most announcers love to talk about it on TV because it is a nuance that most amateurs don't think about, care about or know much about. The announcers talk about it like newscasters hype hot stories. The problem is, the more attention you pay to grain, the less attention you pay to factors that actually mean something. When you begin to get helped by dealing with the grain, join the Hooters Tour.
Should you play the wind? Unless it is howling, wind is a very minor factor influencing your ball on the green. Put your hand down next to the green to prove to yourself how much the wind on your face gets knocked down all the way down to the ground. I think you will find the effect will always be less than one inch along a twenty-foot putt.
All of these factors are going to work on your subconscious and you will generally develop a "gut feel". As I talked about in a preceding article, you must not discount this feeling. You can read the green. Begin your focus immediately following your approach shot to the green. Use all the clues and believe in your skill. You CAN read greens!


Get your golf clubs fitted NOTE: If you have trouble hitting your clubs correctly there is a good chance that your clubs don't suit you properly.

The reason for not improving your game may well be is due to badly fitted clubs. Think about it: people come in all different shapes and sizes, but most golfers simply buy their clubs off the rack in the golf shop.

Unless you are completely 'standard' and 'average' you should consider custom fitting for your next clubs. This can be done online, and it is free, quick and easy (and doesn't hurt a bit). Visit this great website for free online club fitting, just follow the instructions given there:

'Club Fitting Wizard' at Pinemeadow Golf


Reader's feedback and comments

Wonderful tips on reading the putting green. I am anxious to try them out.
SLM (email on file)


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