If you think the best way to read a putt is to squat down behind the ball, visualize where the apex (high point of the break) of its roll will occur, and then aim at that apex, you’re just fooling yourself. I’ve advised against using this technique — called “apex putting” — all of my professional life, but it continues to hang around. Recently, the Golf Channel ran a 30-minute instruction episode with a renowned PGA Tour player extolling the virtues of apex putting. He kept saying, “visualize the high point of the putt’s roll on its way to the hole, then aim at that high point. Let it break down into the hole from there.”
I’m sorry, but this is not the way gravity — or reality — works.
To prove it, look at my son Eddie in the far left image in the photos above. He’s imagining how a ball would have to roll for apex putting to be effective. The ball would have to roll dead straight from the moment it’s struck up to the imagined apex point (indicated by the tee), and then suddenly curve down toward the hole. The truth, however, is that gravity starts working its magic right away when you’re putting on a slope, causing the ball to break downward from the moment you strike it.
Now look at the middle photo, which shows the roll you’d get if you actually started the putt in the direction of the apex. This is not a one-off situation — any time you start a putt at the apex, you’re going to miss below both the apex and the hole.
The best thing you can do for your putting is to follow the photo on the far right. Notice how Eddie has imagined the putt’s curve and then moved to his right (down the hill) so he can look up the actual starting line (indicated by the string). This is the line on which you should actually aim and stroke the putt, not on a line pointing to the middle of the break. It’s like my friend Phil Mickelson said after learning that the ball always rolls below its starting line: “The true apex of the putt’s roll occurs at the moment you strike it; it always rolls downhill from there.” I promise you, the day you stop missing all of your putts below the hole (our Putting Tutor can certainly help, see pelzgolf.com) is the day you’ll start making more putts.