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The Ultimate Putting Program (Part 4): Green Reading

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If you know one thing about green reading, it should be this: The golf ball abides by the laws of gravity and when in motion it will roll towards the low point of any slope.

A lot of golfers use mental images such as “picturing the break as how water would run off a green” to help them read their putts. They also follow adages such as “the putt will break away from nearby mountains,” or “the putt will break toward bodies of water.” These teachings are usually helpful and true, and should be taken into consideration. But there are also subtler elements that golf course architects build into greens to offset the natural lay of the land.

A sure way of reading greens can be determined by the speed of the green, the degree of the slope, the position that the ball sits on the slope, the length of the putt and sometimes the grain of the grass. The faster the green, the more break a golfer will need to play, as there is little friction to stop the ball from breaking. Steeper slopes will obviously produce more break.

The position on the slope can be referred to as a clock system where 6 o’clock is straight uphill and 12 o’clock is straight downhill. The closer the ball is to 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock, the more the ball will break. Now I am sure you’re probably wondering why the most break is not at 9 o’clock and 3 o’clock. It is because at 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock, the putt is downhill. That makes it faster, thus creating more break. The longer the putt, the more it will break as well.

Grain only affects the break on certain types of grasses such as Bermuda, and can be identified by the shine of the grass. When the grass seems shiny, it is down grain and will be faster than usual. When the grass is dull, it is into the grain and will be slower than usual.

putt_geomtery

The diagram above shows four quadrants that are true around any golf hole. Putts from quadrants A and B are downhill, whereas putts from quadrant C and D are uphill. Putts from quadrants A and C break left-to-right, whereas putts from quadrants B and D break right-to-left. The numbers on the diagram represent the clock system to identify a golfer’s position on the slope. The colored lines are the intended paths of the putt whereas the dotted lines represent the target lines or “Aimpoints.”

Let’s consider an example that I gave in one of my previous articles. A golfer in quadrant A who aims his putter left of the Aimpoint will need to compensate by rolling the ball at a slower speed to allow for more break and/or open the putter face at impact. The opposite is true for a right aimer, who will need to roll the ball at a faster speed for the ball to maintain its line and/or close the putter face at impact. This illustrates why aim, speed, and path are vital components to being a successful green reader. By eliminating variables and the need for compensations, a golfer will ultimately become more consistent.

After understanding the basic geometry to putting, green reading comes down to two methods: spot-putting and arc-putting.

Spot-Putting

aimpoint 2

Golfers who are spot-putters identify an Aimpoint at which they will putt toward on a straight line, allowing gravity to send the ball towards the hole. I suggest choosing an Aimpoint that is equal distance from the hole. It is important to note that the Aimpoint is not inline with the apex of the arc, but rather on a line tangent to the starting point. This ensures enough break for the ball to enter the hole on the “high-side,” i.e. “the pro side.” Far too many golfers don’t play enough break when reading greens.

After selecting an Aimpoint, golfers should become fully focused on its location and pay no attention to the hole. I believe this is a critical component in being a good spot putter. I for one have had great success with this method.

Spot-Putting Drill

In Part 3 of my series, I offered a drill to help golfers identify the target line by the use of a chalk line or a string suspended by knitting needles. This same drill can also be used on breaking putts. I suggest starting with the string method, as it is much easier to adjust to find the correct Aimpoint for a given putt. For a breaking putt, you will want to position the string on a line tangent to the intended arc. You will putt so that you roll the ball straight down the line, allowing gravity to roll the ball towards the hole.

Note: If interested, you may want to attend an Aimpoint class to learn more about this method of reading greens.

Arc-Putting

2010.ATT_.McCarron.5

Golfers who are arc-putters identify with the intended arc of the putt and aim relative to that arc, but still keep a mental image of the hole. This may be viewed as a more “feel” based method of green reading, but can be equally as effective. It is important to start the ball high enough to allow for maximum break. I find visualizing the speed at which the ball will roll to be a good way to utilize this method.

Arc-Putting Drill

A great practice drill for arc-putters is to set up a pathway of tees from the ball to the hole on the intended arc (this may take some time, as you will need to adjust the tees to find the correct arc). You will then putt balls so that they roll through the pathway and into the hole.

tee putting drill

This drill makes it easy to identify what variable within The Putting Triad is the root cause for a putt to ricochet off one of the tees. For that reason, I really like this drill. If you’re like me and find that your speed control is prohibiting you from consistently rolling the ball through the pathway, you may want to reread Part 2 of my series on how the weight of your putter affects speed control and make the necessary adjustments to your putter. 

Depending on your natural way of visualizing the intended line of putt, you should benefit from selecting one of these methods of reading greens. Stay tuned for my next article on the importance of developing a pre-shot routine.

To Continue With The Ultimate Putting Program:

transition11  transition21

transition3  preshot

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Henry is a PGA member and TPI certified golf instructor. Employed by New Mexico State University, Henry spends the majority of his time teaching the PGA Golf Management curriculum. He specializes in teaching golf instruction and player development. Henry also coaches a handful of amateur, elite junior, and professional golfers. GolfWRX Writer of the Month: June 2014

10 Comments

10 Comments

  1. Keith

    Jun 20, 2014 at 4:36 pm

    Does putting truly need to be this technical?

    • CJ Decker

      Jul 20, 2015 at 3:05 am

      NO !! http://www.readinggreens.net THE FALL LINE – AIMPOINT – allows for a TWO INCH margin of error in feeling the fall line. SECRETS OF THE FALL LINE – uses basic math to locate and prove the fall line. SPEED – AIMPOINT – speed is specific with AimPoint because of all the other calculations developed for slope, putting trajectory and high pointing the apex. Use the correct speed and AimPoint works. SECRETS OF THE FALL LINE – allows the individual player to use their own speed, thus, allowing for putting trajectories such as charging your putt or lagging your putt … either works. LOOK, THERE’S A LOT MORE, but to Keith, there are alternatives and Secrets of The Fall Line is one of them. As for the experts at GolfWRX, it’s my understanding that this site was developed to help all golfers, not just champion one strategy over another. There’s a reason Mark Sweeney followed me on Twitter and not the other way around.

  2. Nick O'Hern

    Mar 25, 2014 at 7:25 pm

    I like the clock diagram, explains it well, cheers Henry

  3. nik d

    Jan 6, 2014 at 10:07 pm

    I disregard any putting tips, especially for my home course. even the big dogs say that putting there is a gamble.. I was practicing putting one day, and the head pro asked what I was doing, I told him I was practicing, his response “practicing! on these greens!, you would have better odds rolling those putts on a vegas crapps table”

  4. Henry Stetina

    Dec 30, 2013 at 7:24 pm

    6 O’clock is the low point of the “clock.” 12 would be the high point.

  5. R

    Dec 30, 2013 at 5:34 pm

    I think the diagram for the clock you’ve shown is wrong. For example, on the top left quadrant in the diagram (red line), to make that uphill putt (as you said, 6 is straight uphill), you’d have to aim above the hole as the slope will push it towards the right. Same way for the top left (turquoise line) you’d aim above the hole (given that 6 is straight uphill) in order to make it in.

    A simple fix would be to call 12 straight uphill and 6 straight downhill 🙂

    • Henry Stetina

      Dec 30, 2013 at 6:25 pm

      I think you are confused. Red line is downhill left-to-right. Turquoise (top right) is downhill right-to-left.

      • R

        Dec 30, 2013 at 7:15 pm

        “The position on the slope can be referred to as a clock system where 6 o’clock is straight uphill and 12 o’clock is straight downhill”

        Your image shows that the red line and turquoise line start towards 12 and end towards 6. that makes it an uphill putt.

        • Henry Stetina

          Dec 30, 2013 at 7:25 pm

          6 O’clock is the low point of the “clock.” 12 would be the high point.

      • R

        Dec 30, 2013 at 7:29 pm

        Never mind I see what you’re saying. Somewhat confusing because you say the position on the slope (slope being the subject in the sentence) is straight uphill at 6 and straight downhill at 12.

        You should clarify such that it says something along the lines that THE PUTT is straight uphill at 6 and THE PUTT is straight downhill at 12. Makes it clearer that you’re referring the path the rolling putt takes.

        Also, the lines referring to slope are somewhat misleading because you have the arrow at the bottom of the image (downward) pointed at slope. It would be clearer if you wrote instead of slope that 6 was the low point of the green and 12 was the high point of the green.

        I understand your arrow shows that the slope is in that direction, but given this sentence…”The position on the slope can be referred to as a clock system where 6 o’clock is straight uphill and 12 o’clock is straight downhill”, it’s misleading in the sense that it describes the slope at 6 being uphill and the slope at 12 being downhill whereas you’re describing the putt.

        Just a quick change of words and it’s much easier to understand.

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