How to read a putting green.
Reading a putting green is in its simplest form, taking some time before deciding where you will aim and how you will putt, to determine the slope or slopes of the green between your golf ball and the hole.
Then estimating how (or whether) it will cause the golf ball to turn in any direction as it travels toward the hole, which is what most golfers call – the break of the putt.
Gathering this information can also help you to determine the speed of the putt which I will discuss later.
The ability to read a putting green well is one of the things that separates great putters from average putters and in any game you play, it can turn pars into birdies and bogeys into pars.
Unfortunately though, reading a putting green well is something that most golfers find quite difficult.
Especially when the putt is a longer one and the green has multiple breaks on the balls way to the hole.
So today, we are going to look at the easiest way to figure out if there is any break at all.
First of all, something you may not have thought of doing.
Most good golfers will start to read the green as they approach it from the fairway.
This initial look usually gives you a good idea of the green’s general slope and the main way that the green slopes – if it does at all.
Then once you get to the green, stand a few feet behind your golf ball and look toward the hole, looking carefully at the greens surface between your golf ball and the hole.
Does it look like the green is higher on one side or another of the direct line to the hole?
If you can see a difference, are you able to visualize how the golf ball is likely to turn as it makes its way towards the hole?
This is the part that most golfers have trouble with but luckily I learned a little tip many years ago that can help you with that, it helps you to visualize the effect of the slope (if there is one) on the path of the golf ball to the hole.
What you need to do is imagine you are holding ‘a big bucket of water’ while standing at a point about halfway between your golf ball and the hole.
You then imagine ‘tipping the bucket of water’ onto the green.
Can you then see in your mind the path that the water would take when it hit the ground?
Will the water run away quickly – a severe slope that will really affect your putt or will it just trickle away?
Using the imaginary ‘bucket of water’ should help to give you an idea of whatever slope is on the green and how to adjust the line of your putt to allow for it.
Before I get to my next idea, I do need to point out that all of this green reading stuff should only be done if you have time to do it and you won’t be holding anybody up doing it.
That applies to both the group you are playing with and the group behind you if there is one!
So back to working out what your putt is going to do.
After getting an idea of how much slope there possibly is, it’s a good idea to then walk around and look back at your golf ball from behind the hole.
Doing this should help you to confirm the slope you saw at the start.
However, while you are there it is helpful to take a good look around the hole itself, to see if the green around it actually slopes from one edge to the other.
You would be surprised how often it does!
It may explain those putts you have hit over the years that have been travelling on a great line, only to veer off in the other direction just as the golf ball was about to go in.
The last thing I would suggest is that as you make your way back to your golf ball past the hole.
Walk along the ‘low side’ of the target line if you have identified a slope.
I’m not sure there is a lot of science behind it but I know it helps me to look at it from that angle to confirm what I need to do.
I discuss this idea further in an article which you can find on my Golf Habits website here.
In the meantime, another thing you may find useful if you play either early in the morning or late in the day.
Is that frequently the sun can help you to figure out the slopes on the green (and therefore the borrow) by putting shadows on the low points of the green.
Take a minute to think about how many times you have seen that over the years and possibly taken no notice of that at all!
So, to read a putting green take advantage of the things I’ve covered above when you can see them.
Start figuring out the slope of the green as you approach it from that fairway and if you aren’t sure you can see a slope, get out ‘your bucket of water’ and imagine ‘tipping it’ on the green!
But only of you have time of course.
Find out when I’m next holding my popular Putting Workshop.
Ian Hardie is Golfer Pacific’s Golf Professional contributor. He is Club Professional at Omanu Golf Club in Mount Maunganui. Ian’s time is split between the pro shop at the club and helping people to improve, while enjoying their golf more as a result of his golf coaching. Over the past few years, in an effort to help as many golfers as he can, Ian has been sharing his common sense golf advice with golfers around the world through his website golfhabits.com. With over 500 articles to read, it’s a great resource for any golfer looking to improve their golf game.