How do you read golf greens for speed and break?

24 Professionals Contributed |
Reading greens can be considered part art and part science. It can take a long time and lots of practice to become a truly great putter, but with these tips below you'll become a better putter in no time.

With a little science and a little art, green reading can become a simple process

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It starts from 15 yards off the front of the green

Green reading is an art and it starts before you stand on the surface of the green. If you are riding in a cart and approach the green from the side where the cart path takes you then you are dong yourself a disservice. Try walking to the green from the front and take notice of the topography of the green as you approach it. You just started ‘reading a green’. Notice the slopes and color changes (as this tell you about the grain of the grass) which has an impact on the roll of the putt.

Once you are on the surface of the green, feel the slope in your feet and look at your putt from both sides of the ball. I like to walk 360 degrees around the putt so my brain can calculate the slope. Remember this in order:

1st: Calculate the length of the putt by pacing it off. Each step is approximately 3 feet.
2nd: Find out if your putt is up or down hill.
3rd: Pick a spot about 2 feet in front of the ball to determine your starting point.
4th: Set up, aim at your spot and pull the trigger.
5th: If you make the putt, great! If you don’t, give yourself the data, like you hit the putt 3 feet by the hole and don’t react.
Rinse, wash, repeat.

Keep it simple and remember to stay as still as you can while you are stroking the putt. I like to keep my thighs as quiet as possible when I putt as this will give you the best chance of keeping the blade square at impact. Play well and sink more putts. Good luck to all!!

GlenArbor Golf Club
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This is a question that has a lot of variables

Always look at the land around the green. Greens are built to drain water, so slope on greens typically will be toward a low point, a creek, pond, catch basin, etc. Feel the green with your feet as you walk around your ball and stand behind it–they can tell you slope on the green. If you can plumb bob or use Aim Point–that will help too.

Speed can determined a lot on the practice putting green before playing–all the greens on a course should be about the same stimp reading. Before playing don’t aim at any hole rather putt 25-30 foot putts back and forth, up and down across the green just trying to roll the ball up to the edge of the fringe. After about 12-15 putts you should be able to start figuring out the pace of the greens that day. Remember if you play early as the dew burns off the greens will tend to speed up some.

Lastly is grain. Bent grass really doesn’t have any grain that will affect putts. Bermuda does–so reading it is key. Several things to look for: Grain typically grows in the direction of water run-off and also the setting sun. If the grass looks shiny and silvery you are looking down grain (putts will be faster) if the grass looks darker and dull you are looking into the grain (putts will be slower). You can also look at the hole–if there’s a ragged edge on one side the grain is growing toward that side.

One thing to remember, faster putts are hit with less pace and the break takes more effect. Slower putts will tend to break much less.
I always try to over read putts that have a lot of speed and break a lot. When you do as the ball gets near the hole it’s always rolling toward the hole. If you under read it–it’s always rolling away from the hole. You might end up with an 18″-2′ downhill putt but to me that’s better than a 5-6 footer back uphill.

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Green Reading Backwards

During the late 90s and early 2000s I had the good fortune of teaching 3 players who were number one on their respective tours in putting for the year. (Dan Ahmad Bateman, Tour; Kevin Stadler, Nationwide Tour and Ramon Brobio, Asian Tour) I learned as much from them as they did from me.

The first lesson was reading the putt backwards, yes backwards. They see the putt coming out of the hole backwards as they read the putt. They don’t read from ball to hole. They read from hole to ball. They see the ball coming out of the hole at, for example, 5 PM. I, too, thought reading the putt out of the hole backwards was a bit odd until I tried it. I saw the line much better immediately.

[When you consider visualization, we always start with our target and work backwards. Before we get in our car, our targets are well defined. We work backwards from our target to get to our destination. I expanded this concept to teaching on course visualization from the green back to the tee box. For example, as you stand on the tee box, see yourself on the green taping in. Then, visualize from that tap in back to the fairway, then from the fairway back to the tee box. You just played the hole backwards, not too much unlike your visual plan in your car.]

Green reading is specific to your speed and speed is the most important part of putting. If you like to “die” the ball into the hole, you will see a much greater break than a person who wants to be 18 inches by when they miss.

In the early 2000s I did a 3 year study in Dr. Frank Jobe’s biomechanics lab at Centinela Hospital in Los Angeles. The entire study was on physical balance. One part of the research protocol was a balance and vision study. One of the more significant findings was that which hand you hold the club in behind the ball determines the accuracy of what you see. The attached video demonstrates how to test this phenomena behind the ball on a green.

There is a simple way to determine which hand you should hold the club in behind the ball.

1. Find an empty Corner
2. Aim your feet directly at the corner
3. Spread your feet a comfortable distance apart so your body is aimed exactly at the corner
3 Pick up a club in your right hand and note if your body is aimed left, right or exactly at the corner
4. Move the club to your left hand and note if your body is square to the corner

You will find that holding the club in one hand rotates your body while the other keeps you square to the corner. The hand that keeps you square is the hand you want to hold the club in when you read putts or stand behind the ball in the full swing.

In summary, determine which hand to hold the club in as you stand behind your ball; read the putt backwards out of the hole. Your green reading will improve and, when you pair your speed with the green reading, you will begin making more putts.

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Like Reading a Book

Two forces are applied to a ball as it rolls across the green, they are gravity and friction. When reading a putt you first should look at the green complex and surrounding areas as you approach the green. You are looking for the overall slope of the green, back to front, left to right etc. This helps you understand how gravity will effect the ball. Once you understand the green complex you can start looking at the green between the ball and the hole.

Because downhill looks will always read less break than there truly is, we always want to read it from the low sides. If it is an uphill putt, don’t waste your time behind the hole, read it from behind the ball for the break. Then move to the middle of the line on the low side, standing far enough back to see the ball and hole. This is where you get the feel and judge your distance control. If you have a down hill putt, read it from behind the hole looking up towards the ball. It’s like reading a book, when you get tired and the book starts laying down in your hands you can’t read the words as well as when it’s held up. Find your line from behind the hole, move to the side again for distance control, then set up and trust your line from your read.

Finally when reading the putt, pay attention to the grain. Grain creates friction, if it is down grain, there will be no friction, into the grain or side grain will apply friction, a slowing force to the ball. Grain is the direction the grass is laying and can be seen as shiny or “down grain” and dark “into the grain”. The ball will be effected by it and the ball will move the direction the grain is going when it is moving slowly. The ball moves its slowest at the beginning and the end of the roll, and grain that is into, or laying at you. can cause the ball to hop at the beginning of the putt and during the roll slowing it drastically. But remember top dressed greens or greens at 12+ on stimpmeter will not have a lot of the plants leaves touching the ball, so grain will be minimal.

So remember, you’re looking for gravity, grain, reading it from the low side and getting the speed from the side. Putt all those observations together, commit to your line, good stroke and roll them in!

Certified PGA Professional Teaching & Coaching Course: The Woodlands Country Club - Golf Performance Center City/State: The Woodlands, Texas
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Find the apex

Learning to find the Apex of the putt is the most important part of reading the speed and the break of a putt especially on putts that break a lot. My attached YouTube video demonstrates a great drill.

PGA Golf Professional
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3 step process for better green reading

Green reading is not a perfect science. It takes imagination. If you struggle seeing curves, or tracing an imaginary path to the hole, here is a 3 step process to help you.

1) First, identify the point where the ball will enter the hole. For example, maybe a right to left with a descent break enters about 4 o’clock.
2) From 4 o’clock, trace back the last 3-4 feet the ball will roll and identify that point.
3) Then identify where u have to start the putt to get it to end up at the point identified in step two.

The ball breaks the most around the hole. Spend most of your time reading the last few feet.

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Learn the Fundamentals of Green Reading First

The key to improving your ability to read greens is first to recognize that effective green reading involves skills that can be developed. Reading greens is not a mystical art form. Instead, green reading is based on the structured principles of understanding Slope & Friction.

Understanding slope involves first recognizing how to see/find it and then learning to judge the direction of the slope. This can be done by using one’s feet, eyes, and knowledge of greens via greens books and playing experience. Second, is the skill of judging break amount. While this is more complex, it involves factoring in slope direction, slope amount, your putt’s relation to the slope, and friction of the green- what we refer to as “stimp” in the golf world. factoring these together helps a player decide where to aim and how much break to play.

Therefore, to read greens effectively, the goal is to first get good at recognizing and judging slope direction and then estimating the amount of break to be played on a putt. I recommend most amateurs find a qualified teacher in their area who has experience in the principles of green reading or who can instructor them on a reputable green reading system. Green reading is probably the most critical skill in putting, and learning to improve this area of your game can provide great dividends, whether playing on the weekends for fun or in competition.

Florida Gulf Coast University PGA Golf Management
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Reading greens well is as important as the putter fit, stroke, or anything else “including confidence”

Everything from type of turf, slopes, moisture, time of day, sunlight and grain, drainage etc. but I’d say most amateurs overlook the influence of the wind… I always ask my students to identify where the rains and irrigation water will runoff the green. Where the water flows, the golf ball will tend to follow. To keep things simple. Water drainage and wind direction are my first observations.

Mohegan Sun Golf Club
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It really starts as you are approaching the green.

Reading greens can be tough. It really starts as you are approaching the green. Try and get a feel for what the terrain is doing. Get a feel for the general slope of the green.

The old school way I was taught was to imagine you are dumping out a bucket of water. If you did so, where would the water run to. One of the things Aim point does is have you straddle the target line and try and feel the variance of the terrain in your feet.

One of the things I like to do is to try and find the apex of the break, then feel like you are putting to the apex.

As far as speed goes, you really need to confirm if you are putting uphill or downhill, obviously it makes a big difference. Also, spend some time on the putting green prior to playing. Most practice greens are similar in speed to what is out on the course. I went to a Teaching seminar a few years ago and they really made an emphasis on what distances to practice from. Statistical data shows we should practice our long putts, 30 to 40 feet and our short putts, 3 to 5 feet. These are the most common areas that golfer putt from.

Flagler Golf Academy
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Read grain on bermuda grass

On bent I am looking just at the slope. On bermuda I look at the cup 1st to see which side the grass is falling back into the cup which indicates the way the grain is growing. I then look in different directions to look for a shiny side of the grass which indicates downgrain and then I start to look for drains or water sources to see if the grain is growing in that direction. This will also help indicate which way the slope is going towards since the designer is trying to move water off the green. I then look at the highest point around the green which also helps determine the slope. I then walk the line to feel with my feet the slope of the ground. I then look from both sides of the ball to determine the line I want to take.

Precision Golf Academy
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Take Another Look

The best way to read the green for speed and break is to look at your putt from the other side. First, read your putt by standing behind your golf ball while looking at the hole. Then, take another look! Walk to the other side and stand behind the hole, looking at your ball. This will give you the best perspective of green speed and how your putt will break. What you see from the other side is going to confirm what you thought you saw, from behind the ball. Now you can be confident of the proper speed and break! See it and sink it!

The Country Club of Virginia
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Observe from a distance

Two things that many great putters do innately that seemingly have basically gone unnoticed over the years are observation from a distance of green contours and close inspection of the path of ALL shots hit onto the green surface. A player (particularly if walking the course) from 50-100 yards out can not help but notice the multiple contours that are present on most greens. I think many good putters did this without even knowing it. The human brain catalogued what the modern green books illustrated. The second thing that the curious and/or observant golfer gained valuable information from was watching ALL shots hit to the green roll out. Only illegally rolling a ball on the green before putting could be more valuable. Even seeing shots not hit on the same line as your putt give usable info. Could be 2 components of “feel”.

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Follow the stream…

I imagine holding a garden hose with a steady stream of water to “see” the way it would flow to the hole. You can put your putter down simulating the hose.

Another part is looking for the lowest point of the green, or around the section of the green you are on.
I hope this helps you hole more putts!

Brookshire Golf Club
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The Art and Science of reading greens...

I think the best way to learn how to read greens for speed and break is by trial and error…

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Low side always wins

I like to read the putt from all angles to get an overall view of the green. The one side that rules is the low side which will affect the roll of the ball the most. To do this I define what call “the straightest uphill putt” to that hole location. Standing on that line helps me determine the amount of break the ball will take as it slows down while also giving me feedback on weather my putt is going downhill or uphill.

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How to read greens

Here in the US we have different areas that have different grasses (Bent vs Bermuda). So for example when I was practicing or caddying at a club in Florida I would look for a worn out area up at the Cup. If not I would keep in mind this grass would follow where the SUN would rise and go down. In the Northern part or maybe colder climate areas things that affect break are (ponds, Lakes, Valley’s). Also keep in mind most (not all) clubhouses are on the highest points of the property. Now in terms of speed most public courses are slower than private clubs. This usually because of the amount of foot traffic. But, the best thing to do is to go the practice green and hit Putts for all over.

Fox Hollow Golf Club
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Where does the water flow?

Need a simple way to think about reading greens? Imagine this… You get to the practice green, and all of a sudden, the clouds open up and it starts to pour down rain. As you look around the green, you’ll notice that the water starts to flow off the green. In some places, it runs off the green faster than other places. In some places it runs to the right, and in other places, the water runs to the left. Now imagine that the make-believe water is actually the break of the green. If you hit your ball, it will likely move much like our “pretend” scenario and follow the running of the water. Now comes the hard part, go practice and think about “break” with a new frame-of-mind when reading greens.

PGA Golf Pro
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Reading Greens: Start Early

Green reading is largely a matter of experience and judgment. The more practice you get, the better. That said, playing on greens you are unfamiliar with can make it a tough assignment. The best advice I can offer is this: Don’t wait until you are on the green to begin reading it. From fifty yards out you can observe a great deal about where water would drain to, thus the break, that you cannot see while standing on the putting surface. And double check your read by plumb bobbing. You can disregard the theory behind it and just recognize that gravity will make the shaft pretty much vertical, helping you avoid being deceived by the surroundings as to what vertical, and therefore flat, really are.

Moses Lake Golf Club
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Experience is your best teacher here.

Efficiently reading greens is a skill that is generally learned and earned through trial, error, and experience.

The Olde School method of going out, playing a lot of rounds, keeping your eyes open, ( watching all of your shots as well as other players’ shots carefully around the green ),is still the best way to gain valuable insight to reading greens. Learning to chip and putt well on your own is a large part of the beauty and satisfaction of the game! Although slow and tedious, the process is still the best way to become a great chipper and putter and earn confidence and skill around the greens.

Some keys to developing this skill are 1 . know that in general most greens will slope from back to front (down hill) 2. watch your previous shot and observe how it breaks #3 start looking at the putt from far out as you approach the green, and 4. look at it from below the hole when you get a chance. #5 have fun and enjoy the game as you gain experience!

Olde School Golf School
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Always from behind the hole

I always try and read the second half of putts from behind the hole ! When a putt has reached the halfway point to the hole it is going to start to slow down and will take more break ! Then I read the first half of the putt from behind the ball, and put them together !

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Experience is the best teacher for golf!

Greens reading 101

The Olde School method of playing a lot of rounds, keeping your eyes open, ( watching all of your shots as well as other players’ shots carefully around the green ),is still the best way to gain valuable insight to reading greens. Learning to putt well on your own is a large part of the beauty and satisfaction of the game! Although slow and tedious, the process is still the best way to become a great chipper and putter and earn confidence and skill around the greens.

Some keys to developing this skill are :

1. know that in general, due to basic golf course design principles, most greens will slope from back to front (down hill) .Meaning… Anything on the back of the green would tend to be downhill and faster, vice versa for a ball on the front of the green, and a putt from the right side breaks right to left, and a ball on the left side breaks left to right. There are exceptions!

2. Make it a habit to take a quick look from the front or low side of each green to get a feel for the prevailing slope of the green. Develop the routine of looking at your putts without undue delay from below the hole.

3. Practice as many severely breaking putts as possible.

Find an area on the practice green that has a lot of slope, stick a tee in the green or place a favorite coin down and putt at it from all angles and distances, making them or ending close to the mark. This will build familiarity and confidence. Trial, error and experience are your best teachers when it comes to developing a sold game around the greens.

Putt well, play well !! Coach Bob K PGA

Olde School Golf School
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Read greens from afar...

Green reading is feel based IMO as a lot of how a putt will move is directly related to speed. The secret is to start with a solid foundation of the lay of the land. All greens MUST drain – there is always a low spot (or many) where water will move off the green. When standing on the surface, sometime you can feel the subtleties in your feet – but if you seek out the drains surrounding the greens, this will give you a general sense of where the water…and hence, the ball…is moving. This too applies to mountains nearby (breaking away from), valleys (breaking towards), and even the setting sun (affects grain). Understand these fundamental principals and you will more accurately read more putts!

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I read greens a little differently, especially from mid-long range putts. I read the putt backwards from the hole. By seeing where a putt from the direction of my ball will need to enter the hole, I can then look out to the area or line that I will need to start my putt for that to happen. Speed is however, the more critical element!

Arsenal Island Golf Course
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