Green Reading Basics

April 29, 2008

Straight putts are nice, but most of the putts you’re going to face will have some kind of break to them. You’ll lower the number of putts you face each round if you have a green-reading routine for every situation. Here’s how to do it.

1. Get the big picture

As you approach the green, take a mental inventory of its general shape. Is it sloping toward your ball? Away from it? Does the green fall off on one side? These larger features will take priority over smaller breaks when determining how your ball will roll.

2. Determine the distance

Pace the distance from your ball to the hole, just as you would on the fairway. One rule of thumb says that each foot of distance requires one inch of backswing with your putter.

3. Determine the speed

Is the putt level, uphill or downhill? No matter where your ball is, always look up the slope to get the most accurate idea of the elevation of the putt. Remember that as the elevation changes between your ball and the hole, the target for your putt must also change. For an uphill putt, you shouldn’t be trying to hit your putt with enough speed to reach the hole–you should be hitting it with enough speed to reach a spot a couple of feet beyond the hole. Conversely, on a downhill putt, you shouldn’t hit the putt as though you’re trying to get the ball to the hole–you should hit it as though you’re trying to get it to stop at a target that’s a few feet short of the hole.

4. Determine the break

Once you have a pretty good idea of the speed of the putt, squat down behind your ball with your eyes as level as possible. Look from your ball to the hole and determine which side of your line is the high side and which side is the low side. After you’ve determined which side is high and which is low, walk over to the low side (the direction toward which the ball will curve) and take a look up the slope. This will give you a much better idea of the severity of the slope than just looking from your ball to the hole will. Keep in mind that break is more important the closer you get to the hole, because your ball will be traveling more slowly and thus will be more affected by the break as it nears the cup.

5. Put it all together

Now that you’ve determined the distance, speed and break of your putt, create a picture of your ball rolling to and falling into the hole. On left-to-right putts, the ball must enter the hole left of center, and on right-to-left putts the ball must enter right of center. Speed determines direction, so on a downhill putt, you need to hit the ball softer, which means the ball will be more affected by the break. On an uphill putt, you need to hit the ball harder, which means that your ball will be less affected by the break.

Reading break from off the green

How the break of a green will affect your putt or chip from the fringe depends on how much time your shot spends in the air. As a general rule. the more air you put under the ball, the less you have to worry about the breaks.

If you’re putting form the fringe, or hitting a low or high shot that’s going to land on the fringe before rolling onto the green, play the same amount of break you would for a regular putt, but be sure to take into account the direction of the fringe-grass grain-dark grass (the grain is against you) will slow your ball down, while shiny grass (the grain is with you) will speed your ball up.

If you’re hitting a low, running shot onto the green with a low-lofted iron, fairway wood or hybrid, the amount of break will depend on the slope in your landing area. Low shots hit with these clubs will be traveling faster than those hit with wedges and will be less affected by the slope in your line, at least until the ball slows down as it approaches the hole.

If you’re hitting a high shot onto the green with a short-iron or wedge, keep in mind that shots hit with these clubs will be traveling slower than those hit with less-lofted irons. which means that they’ll be more affected by the slope in your line.

TODD ANDERSON is director of instruction at Sea Island Golf Club on St. Simons Island, Ga.