If you can’t read greens, good luck ever breaking 90, 80 or even par. While so many players focus on the long game, the short game is what moves the needle. Green reading is half the battle of becoming a great putter.
Some golfers are very visual and can walk on the green and instantly see the read. Tiger is one of those players that has said he can see the path the ball needs to get on to end up in the hole. He’s also developed that skill from a young age using meditation and mindfulness practices to get in the zone.
While other golfers aren’t as visual and go off of feel and learning green reading techniques. Even if you’re not a natural, you can learn how to read greens like the best of them and hole more putts.
In this post, I’ll share with you the top 10 tips to help you learn how to read greens and give yourself a chance to consistently shoot lower scores.
Before I get into the best green reading tips, make sure you check out our other articles on how to become a better putter. Remember, being a great putter is the combination of many different skills including reading greens:
The first tip to help your green reading abilities is to start reading the green on the way up to the hole. If you’re walking, this is really easy. You can start noticing the undulations and slopes from about 20 yards out. Look at the chip or putt upcoming and start to think about the break and the slope of the shot.
If you’re riding, you can also do this as well but not quite as effectively as you tend to pull the cart up behind the green. To get started, first evaluate the slope of the green. Notice any hills, tiers, and visible slopes. In general, most greens slope back to front.
This means that for the most part, an approach shot left short of the pin will give you an uphill putt. The more uphill putts you can have, the more aggressive you can hit them and easier it is to make birdies and not three-jack.
Remember, it’s always better to have a longer putt uphill than a shorter putt downhill where you have to play defense instead of hitting it aggressively.
Once you get to the green and mark your ball, it’s important to start reading the putt from behind the hole. This should always be your first move, don’t go all the way around the hole and look from the other side first.
I like to squat down and get as low as possible. While I’m not Camilo Villegas low, the lower you are to the ground, the more you can see the read.
Look for general slopes and try to imagine the line the ball will need to travel on to end up at the bottom of the cup. Keep it simple and understand if it’s uphill or downhill and if it breaks right to left or left to right.
If you can’t figure something out, then go behind the hole if you aren’t sure. Otherwise, looking at the cup from both side could cause confusion and doubt. Plus, you might slow down your round and be a pain to your playing partners.
Another great way to help you read the green is with your feet. Yes, your feet can tell you a lot about the putt and help you in the green reading process.
One of the formal ways to use your feet for reading greens is using the Aimpoint system. You might see a few players on the PGA Tour using this green-reading method including Adam Scott.
Here’s how Aimpoint generally works:
- Use your feet to estimate the amount of slope in your putt
- Use your arm and fingers to determine where to aim
I encourage you to check out Aimpoint and make your own decision. But in my opinion (for what it is worth), the system as a whole seems to make it complicated to read greens as the entire process is very mechanical.
That being said, one thing I got from it was noticing how much your feet can help you read greens. Now I try to use my feet more to determine if it’s uphill or downhill. You can straddle your golf ball and also feel if the line is going right or left.
If you read every putt with the right line but don’t have the right speed for that line, you will miss nearly every time. Ask yourself, what type of putter are you? Are you someone that dies into the hole on the last revolution? Or are you someone who takes out some break and hammers it home?
While one way isn’t better than the other, it’s important to know your style. Because the harder you hit the putt, the less break you need to play. If you are someone who tends to hit with a bit more speed, it’s important to note that you’re making the hole smaller. You’re going to have more burnt edges and more power lip-outs.
But players like Tiger Woods is known as someone who hits it hard, so I’m not saying don’t choose it. With the new 2019 golf rules, you can keep the flagstick in so that helps slow down a putt with some extra speed on it.
Personally, I think you should cater speed to each putt. Some require finesse while others require a little extra sauce.
Besides, a putt left shot has 0% chance of going in. If you’re uphill, make sure you give it a chance. If you’re downhill, play for the dying approach so you don’t race it by.
Lastly, don’t forget the comeback putt if you miss.
It’s not uncommon for your speed to change as you go to different courses and play in different conditions (see our article on the stimpmeter). Different weather, grass types, and green designs can make things very different when you play different courses.
That being said, make sure to not forget about local rules. For example, if you’re playing an ocean course, you might hear things like “breaks toward the ocean.” Or if you’re playing a desert course in Phoenix above the city, you might hear “everything breaks toward the valley.”
Ask the starter when you’re teeing off if there are any local rules when it comes to reading greens. If you can’t decide on a specific line, you can always use the local rule for some extra assistance.
Depending on where you play, grain is a big part of green reading. Start by looking for any changes in the color of the grass.
(If you’re having trouble seeing the color changes, sometimes it’s a little easier if you have sunglasses made for golfers.)
If your putt is down grain, the grass is laying in the same direction at which your putt is going. The putting surface will have a more sheen look to it and be lighter in color. This means it’s going to be even faster than normal.
If your putt is into the grain, the grass is laying towards your line. The putting surface will be darker and the putt will be slower.
This can make it hard if you’re downhill and into the grain or vice versa. As a rule of thumb, gravity always beats the grain when influencing the roll of the ball.
Lastly, make sure you hit putts super solid in grainy greens. A miss hit putt can end up way short or way long depending on the grain.
When it comes to reading greens, a great putting routine will help you more than anything. You should work as hard on your putting routine as your full-shot routine. Like sports psychologist Dr. Bob Rotella said, “Your routine is your wingman.”
Make your routine simple and easy. Read from behind the hole, pick the apex, take a few practice putts, and execute.
Please trust your initial read too as the first instinct typically the right one. There isn’t much worse than having indecision over a putt. Commit to your line before your putt and give it your best shot.
One of the older green reading techniques is “plumb bobbing.” While a few PGA Tour players have used it, including Ben Crenshaw, I recommend skipping it entirely.
The whole premise of the plumb bob is to figure out the slope of the green but on most putts, this is pretty obvious. Not only does the plumb bob look like an amateur move, it might also confuse things even more as greens can have multiple slopes.
Don’t make green reading harder than it needs to be and stick with a traditional approach.
I still remember watching the Masters in 2004 rooting for Phil to finally get the monkey off his back and win his first major championship. On the 72nd hole, Phil had a slippery putt to win at Augusta. His playing partner, Chris Dimarco gave him the perfect line. As soon as Chris hit it his putt, Phil rushed behind him to get the read.
His method worked and he ended up making the clutch putt (barely) to win his first green jacket. The lesson? Always learn from your playing partners when reading the green. If they have even a remotely similar putt, make sure you learn from them.
The last green reading tip is to make sure you break up long putts into multiple reads. Not every putt will break the same direction, especially if you’re going over slopes and different tiers. Don’t be afraid to break putts into multiple segments.
A recent trend is green reading books that basically give you the line. They use topography to learn the greens exact break and can really help your game. For PGA pros, it almost seems unfair to give the players that much information.
But for amateurs, it can be helpful if you know how to use them to your advantage. Otherwise, they might confuse you even more and slow down play. Plus, they’re like $30-$40 per course so make sure it’s something you can use more than once.
Hopefully, these 10 tips will help you find your lines and make more putts. It’s natural for you to see the reads on some courses more than others. The entire process starts as you walk up to the green and always start reading from behind the hole.
Lastly, don’t make it overly complicated. Have a simple putting routine so you can stand over each putt with confidence. You develop that confidence over time by practicing with the right putting drills. And if all else fails, just hire a golf caddy to read the putts for you.
Remember, commit to each putt as the wrong read with the right stroke is better than the right read with an unconfident stroke.