Green reading isn’t magic. Yes, some people are better at judging break than others, but not because they have better eyes or see things the rest of us can't. It's what your mind "sees" that matters, and there are ways to train your brain to make better reads, especially on subtle slopes where you're not sure if the putt will break, or roll straight. Anyone can pick out severe breaks. Focusing on improving your reads on mildly breaking putts, though, takes you to a whole new level.
Here's one way to grow your green-reading brain: Find a gentle slope on the practice putting green. Place a coin or ball marker about nine feet from the hole, then stand behind the marker and give the putt your best read. Let's say you judge it as slightly right-to-left. That's a good start. But how much right to left? To find out for sure, and to improve your ability to summon the correct answer when you're on the course, follow these steps:
1. Get into your address position and aim your putter straight at the hole. I've placed a yellow ball in the top photo at right to indicate my aiming point.
2. Make a stroke over the marker. As you finish your stroke, picture a ball starting on your line and try to imagine how much it's going to break.
3. Make some more strokes and imagine a few more rolls, then set a ball in front of the marker and putt it straight at the hole. Yep, I want you to miss it. This way, you'll see how much the putt really breaks.
4. Place another ball in front of the marker, but instead of aiming straight at the hole, aim your putter the same distance to the right as the putt missed to the left during your read practice in step 3. Notice in the bottom photo that I've moved the yellow ball the appropriate amount to the right of the hole. Once you're aimed correctly, stroke the putt—and imagine you need this one to win your club championship or shoot your best score ever. This makes your practice stroke feel "real."
Comparing the amount of break you see to what's real is an effective way to hone your green-reading skills. The next step? Learn to trust them. Keep putting from in front of the marker—adjusting your aim as needed—until you hole this nine-footer with perfect speed. Once you can make five in a row, you'll know exactly—and I mean exactly—how much this putt breaks from right to left.
Continue the drill on the other side of the hole to work on left-to-righters. Then try it from different distances. The more you practice reading putts—and practice confirming reads with actual makes—the better you'll get at judging break on the course, where it counts. You won't just jar more putts—you'll make the ones that other golfers miss.