Read Greens Like a Pro

Ever hit a putt you thought was going in only to have it drift wide right? If you have, chances are you misread the green. My golf lessons teach that reading greens takes skill, good judgment, and experience. Since there’s no formula for determining the direction a ball must start based on the slope of the green and the distance to the hole, reading greens is key to sinking more putts. And sinking more putts, as my golf tips emphasize, produces a lower golf handicap.

Let’s talk about ball speed for a second. Ball speed is critical in putting. The factors affecting speed are (1) the type of grass you’re putting on, (2) the direction the grass is growing, and (3) the moisture of the grass. Wet greens tend to slow a ball down. Fast greens tend to drift the ball away from the hole.

Reading a green correctly—accounting for how these factors affect your putt— helps you determine not only the speed of a putt but also the direction. To sharpen your skill at this technique, we recommend developing a green-reading routine.

Let’s look at the putting sequence before getting into specifics. First, your subconscious mind absorbs all the factors affecting ball speed and direction. Next, you decide how hard and where to hit the ball. Then, you putt. You judge the accuracy of your read by watching the putt. If it goes in, you’ve read the green correctly. If it goes by the hole, you’ve may have misread the green.

My golf tips stress that experience contributes greatly to reading a green correctly. But I also recommend that you keep the following in mind as you approach a green:

• Start thinking about the line of the putt as you walk to the green. The best view of the green’s slope (whether it slopes to the right or left) is from 20 yards or so away. Standing on the green can’t tell you this. If the terrain surrounding the green slopes to the right, the green probably slopes to the right. If a green slopes in the opposite direction, it creates a basin that collects water. No self-respecting landscape architect will do that.

• Check from the side of the green if you have an uphill or downhill putt. You can make this judgment by standing behind the putt. The side provides the best perspective for this and for determining the speed of the ball. For downhill putts, the low side of the green offers the best perspective for judging the terrain’s slope.

• Stand behind the hole to judge the area around the hole. This area is crucial because a ball loses most of its speed by the time it gets to the hole. Here, the terrain can really influence the ball’s direction.

• Read the green with your feet. Use your sense of balance to determine the green’s slope. It will also give you clues about the putt’s speeds

• Stand behind the ball to make a final decision on the putt’s direction and speed. When you stand above the ball, your perspective changes, as does your impression of the line. Behind the ball is the best place to take a final look. Once you’ve made the decision, don’t change it.

In addition, here’s a few putting tips I always highlight in my golf instruction: watch the roll of another player’s ball, don’t underestimate the break on a putt, and pay attention to the influence of the wind and dampness.

Watching another player’s ball, especially if he or she has a similar shot, provides hints on how the ball rolls. Sometimes, it even provides you with a near perfect line. Also, miss a break on the high side of the hole not the low. That way the ball has at least a chance of rolling in. And it doesn’t roll as far away from the hole on the high side as it does on the low. In addition, a strong wind affects the speed and direction of the ball as does dampness. So factor these elements in. A ball rolls a lot slower on wet grass than on dry grass.

Finally, watch the ball if it goes by the whole. Don’t turn away in anger. There’s little feedback before and during a putt, so you can’t check your reading accuracy until after you hit the ball. Key questions you need to ask yourself are: Did it have the right direction? Did it have the right speed? Did it have the right on line? Answering these questions is crucial to improving your ability to read greens and sink more putts. And doing that, as my golf lessons point out, will lower your golf handicap.


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