Tip #58 - Reading The Green

Stroking the ball is only one part of putting -- the mechanical part. Equally important is the artful side -- reading the green.

Play More BreakPlay Less Break
1. Hard Green1. Soft Green
2. Dry Green2. Wet Green
3. Grain With Slope3. Grain Against Slope
4. Downhill4. Uphill
5. Bermuda Grass, Kikuyu5. Bent Grass, Rye
6. Afternoon6. Morning
7. Crosswind With Slope7. Crosswind Against Slope
8. Light Tailwind8. Headwind, Heavy Tailwind

Good green reading comes with experience. After hitting enough putts over enough different types of terrain and grass, you develop a sixth sense of how the ball will roll. As you walk onto a green, whether you realize it or not, you take in all sorts of subtle information.

If the green appears light, you know you're putting against the grain; if it's dark you're downgrain. If the green is set on a high area of the course and you feel a breeze as you step onto it, you sense that the putt will be fast. Even if you don't look closely at the surrounding terrain, you are aware of any major slope in the land.

Without having to tell yourself, you know which is the low side of the green and which is the high. If the putting surface is hard and crusty under foot, you receive one message, if it's soft and spongy you get another. Experience with many, many putts allows you to run this data through your computer before you even mark your ball.

The most elusive aspect of green reading has to do with the grain. Grain refers to the direction in which the blades of grass grow. The light/dark appearance is one way to read it. Another method you can use is to take your putter blade and scrape it across a patch of fringe. If the blades of grass brush up, you're scraping against the grain. If they mat down, you're scraping with it. (Incidentally, be sure to do this scraping on the fringe. On the greens, it's against Rule 35-1f.)

Reading The Green
Never hit the ball until you have a good vision of the path on which it will roll.

A third method is to take a look at the cup. Often, the blades of grass will grow over the edge of the cup in the direction in which the grain moves. Incidentally, grain usually grows toward water, especially toward the ocean, and in the East it's apt to lean toward the mountains. If you're not near any such topography, figure on the grain growing in the direction of the setting sun.

Grain is strongest on Bermuda grass, where short, crewcut-like blades tend to push the ball strongly. Although each putt on each green is different, as a general rule you can figure on stroking the ball about 20 percent harder than usual on a putt that's dead into the grain, and about 20 percent less on a downgrain putt.

When the ball breaks with the grain, read-in extra "borrow" on the putt. When the slope is against the grain, play for less break. These effects are less marked on the long-stemmed bent and other strains of grass, but they are present nonetheless.

The break of your putt will also be affected by the firmness of a green, the wetness/dryness, the amount of wind you're facing, and even the time of day. In general, any time you have to hit the ball hard, you play for less break.

Another way of reading the break on a green is to watch the way other players' putts behave. I'm all for this "going to school," but with one caveat: Allow for any difference between your own playing style and those of your fellow players. If, for instance, your friend is a lagger and you're a charger, don't playas much break as he does.

Finally, if I have one hard and fast rule in putting, it's this: Never hit the ball until you have a good vision of the path on which it will roll. Sometimes the vision will come to you immediately. You'll see the perfect putt the minute you step up to it, and more often than not, you'll sink it just as you saw it. Other times, it will take much longer to get a picture of the putt, and even then you won't be comfortable. But don't make your stroke until you have the best read you can get. You have to believe in your line if you want to have a good chance of sinking any putt.


Greg Norman Estates