Putting Tips on Reading Greens
How many strokes would your game improve if you could improve your reading of greens? Reading greens better is not hard, but takes some time. Knowing the basics of reading greens is the first step and to start let’s begin with advice from golfing great Ben Hogan.
I came across the article, “Reading” Greens, written by Mr. Hogan in the August 1953 edition of the USGA Journal and Turf Management. Mr. Hogan’s record was impressive, but what’s more impressive is that he was putting on greens that were much different and more difficult than today. He starts by saying he is surprised that most “duffers” are amazed at the ability of golf pros ability to read greens.
The first point Mr. Hogan makes is that experience is required to read greens. That means you have to consciously make the effort and adjust based upon your mistakes. This article will give you the basics and then you need to apply, learn and adjust to improve your green reading and putting.
1. Almost all ocean side course greens break toward the ocean
I live in Florida, so this is important for me. Mr. Hogan doesn’t go into any detail on this, so it appears that he believes it’s pretty simple. My experience says he is spot on.
2. On mountain courses, putts will break away from the mountain
Weather and erosion are the culprits here, so on a more mature course the break will be more certain. Hogan says “what you have to guard against in reading greens on mountain courses…is little things which your knowledge of golf will tell you can’t be true.” You will probably figure this out after awhile, but you may have given away several strokes in the mean time.
3. Locating the direction of the grain of the green is half the effort
The ball going down grain will move faster and we know that, but Mr. Hogan points out that side grain will change the break as well. This was a huge help for me. If the break from the contour goes in one direction, but the grain runs in the other direction, the two forces are going to counter each other. The question of course is how much?
The speed of the green and the amount of contour break you’re reading will determine how much break you read. If the grain is running with the contour, it will break more than you think. If the grain is running against the contour, it will break less than you think. This explained a lot of my missed putts over the years.
4. Know the grass of the green
Different grass on the green will behave differently. This isn’t a big deal if you play the same courses all of the time, but if you are playing on different courses, like the pros, this is very important. Mr. Hogan suggests that you get to know the feel of greens through your feet.
For me, this brought to mind the difference between morning and afternoon greens on the same course. I play mostly in the afternoon, but when I play in the morning the greens are different. Speed is different, so everything about the putting stroke and break is different.
And, finally, my own contribution to figuring break:
5. Bring a mental water jug with you
Determining the break is not always easy. A long time ago, I was given some sage advice. If you’re having trouble seeing the break, image that you are pouring water on to the green. See how the water flows in that image and you will have the break. It seems so simple, but it works.
Ocean course greens break toward the ocean, but mountain courses break away from the mountain. Grain affects the speed of the ball, but also the amount of break. Walk around the hole until you see the grain – with the grain break will be more, against the grain less. Finally, know the grass of the green through your feet. Soft, hard, crunchy and dry will all play differently.
These putting tips won’t make any difference if you don’t apply them and gain experience. Write the five points on a note and stick it in your golf bag where you will see it before the round. Tape is to your putter if you need to, but look at these points before your round. Maybe you’ll pick up a stroke or two.