How to Putt and Read Greens

Written by Gary Buffington, Jr., 20 year Manager of Edwin Watts Golf Shop, Tampa, former academic All-American Golfer at University of West Florida, and former Professional Mini-Tour Golfer offers specific advice and drills for game improvement directly related to what is learned from the Statistical Outputs of the Golf Addiction Statistics Mobile App

No one tells you how to execute a putting stroke and read a green.  We will. 

Some Critical Putting Information

Golf balls run downhill!  It's mostly about gravity.  The slope of a green causes the ball to fall with gravity to the low side.  How much you say?  It depends: on the brand, cleanliness and condition of the ball; the speed you hit it, imperfections in the green, putter face angle, face loft, stroke path, squareness of blade at impact, and hitting on the sweet spot of the putter. 

If the green slopes significantly, you CANNOT aim at the front of the cup (the part you see as you look at the cup).  On a big breaker the ball will only go in the SIDE of the cup!  There may be half of the cup (as you look straight at it) that will NEVER accept the ball.  The facts are that a big breaker may have MORE THAN HALF of the cup to enter but it won't be the half you are looking at!  On the far side of the hole on the high side because of the breaking putt it may catch a lip and "lip in" (as opposed to lip out) so more than half of the cup may accept the ball. 

 Dave Pelz Secrets of Putting

Dave Pelz ( Click here to connect to Dave Pelz Putting and Short Game Schools) has done a lot of research on putting and describes the Pelz Putting Package. The PPP involves five aspects of putting that Pelz teaches in wonderful Dave Pelz Short Game School courses throughout the country. The Five Aspects of the Pelz Putting Package are:
  1. Putter Path
  2. Face Angle at impact
  3. Impact point on putter (Did you hit the sweet spot and thus hit a solid putt?)
  4. Touch (or feel)
  5. The mind

Pelz reports some VERY interesting experimentally derived conclusions about each of these five essentials to good putting.
  1. On a 20 foot putt a path that is off 10 degrees should make the putt off by 2 feet. But the experimental data showed the putts were only off by 4 inches or bad path only caused a 2 degree error!
  2. 90% of any face angle misalignment is transmitted to the line the ball rolls on! So, your buddies are often correct when they shout out “you pushed (or pulled) it!”
  3. Pelz says missing the sweet spot (not making solid ball contact) causes a missed putt from 8 feet 95% of the time. (Current PGA tour pros MAKE 50% of all 8 footers!)
  4. Pelz describes touch as “touch for distance.” This would be the ability to hit the ball the proper distance, and his work gives many drills to help with touch.
  5. The mind controls putting with positive imagery, putt visualization, and a putting knowledge database to force good habits and a repeating stoke. 

So Dave Pelz describes good putting as follows: The path of the putter stroke is important, but path errors are far less important than one might think. The face angle at impact is critically important as is hitting the sweet spot to make solid contact. Distance is controlled with touch. And the mind controls the whole process. 

If you are an analytical player, a scientist, mathematically inclined, or an engineer, Dave Pelz is the guy for you and we would advise reading all his books. But it is true he can be very complex and mathematical.  If you prefer to take just one great tip from Dave Pelz on putting, a tip that can improve your putting overnight it would be this one:  Hit all putts on the sweet spot to make solid contact.  Many more putts will go in.  

We believe Pelz stuff and you should too!

The Grain

The grain of the green has a serious effect on how and where the ball rolls. The grain is the direction in which the grass is growing. The grass blades lean toward the sun. It can be towards the hole, away from the hole, left, or right. Grass blades can grow in any direction and the leaning of the blades will force the ball to roll ever so slightly in the direction of the grain. This means that if the grain is growing towards the hole, the putt will be quicker than expected. If the grain is away from the hole, then the putt will be slower. If the grain grows to the right, then the putt will veer right. (And vice versa.) When baffled that a putt broke uphill, it is because the grain took it there. Grain can sometimes even negate hills and break altogether.
How do I read the grain? There are 3 methods, all of which work. The first way is to look at the green. If it is shiny looking then you are down grain and have a quick putt. (You are looking at the blades of grass as they grow away from you.) If it is a duller or darker color, you are into the grain and your putt will be slower. (You are looking at the ends of the grain and the darkness is the shade within the blades.) Look from the sides also. Whichever side looks shiny is “with the grain” and the ball will be slightly moved with the grain in that direction. The next way is to look at the hole. This works best on shorter putts. If one side has grass hanging over the lip you know the grain grows the way in which the grass is pointed. If a side is kind of dead, then you know the grain grows away from the dead spot. The last way to read the grain is the toughest but can pay off. As you are reading the green, just look down carefully at the blades of the grass! If you see a pattern or a visible flow of grass in one direction, then you know the ball will move ever so slightly that way.
There is more grain on Bermuda green’s than bent grass or Champion Bermuda.

Don’t Forget the Big Picture

In many cases, players can over complicate green reading until they get the entire break wrong. Yes, there are subtle breaks that are tough to read. But, on most greens just looking at the big picture will be helpful. This is the simplest way to read greens! Look at the entire gree
n and see which side is the highest. As a general rule the ball will break away from the high side of the green. On some modern courses and courses with exceptionally hilly greens this method does not work. However, in most cases, reading greens like this will work. If the course is hilly, look at the hills or mountains. Natural rainwater MUST be channeled away from the hills and mountains or we would create a pond. Greens MUST slope away from major hills. Likewise, putts break toward water or ponds, which really means they go with the gravity. Natural water drainage is always toward ponds and so the green will slope in that same direction. If the hill is higher behind the green, and lower short of the green, the break is toward the low area. Natural water drainage cannot be into bunkers; so greens are built with slope away from bunkers. So putts will break away from bunkers.

The Question is, Which Way Would Water Drain

A great visual to help you read greens is to imagine yourself pouring a pitcher of water onto the green. Do this visioning while crouching down and viewing your putt. While you are crouched, look at the hole, your mark, above the hole, and below the hole. Try to see all the hills and bumps. This is the best time to analyze the slope (read the green) and is your one chance to get it right. While you are still crouched, imagine this visual. See the water being poured on the green and visualize where it would flow. This is the direction your ball will veer on its path to the hole. This clear picture will lead to more putts going in the cup, and LOWER SCORES!