How To Read Greens – 11 Useful Tips

Green reading is a sometimes undervalued skill in golf. However, you should be under no illusion that being able to read greens well will make putting so much easier and should lower your scores.

Green Reading Tips

Here are some tips on improving your green reading.

Start Your “Read” Before You Reach The Green

As you are approaching the putting surface try to get an idea of the general lay of the land. It is likely that the overall slope of the green will be determined by the immediate surroundings.

There are a few generalities to bear in mind:

  • Greens are more likely to slope back to front than front to back
  • Greens are usually going to slope toward any nearby water
  • Greenside bunkers will usually create slopes on the green.

Look From Behind The Ball

Some people prefer to read the green after marking the ball while others prefer to leave the ball in place when they read the green. It’s really up to you. Try to get low to the ground to help you pick up any subtle slopes between you and the hole.

You could also try standing to the ball as if you are going to putt to see if you can detect any slope.

Look From Behind The Hole

The ball will be traveling at its slowest as it approaches the hole so any break here will have more effect on the ball. Try to envision the point at which the ball would enter the cup. You can then try to work backward to see how you get the ball there.

Use Your Feet 

Whether or not you use the Aimpoint system your feet can still give you feedback on the sort of slopes you’re dealing with.

If you take your stance like you are going to putt does the ball feel higher or lower than your feet?

When you’re standing behind the ball do you feel like there is a slope in one direction? 

Standing behind the hole looking back toward your ball do you feel like there is a slope?

Simply walking to the hole and back gives you feedback on the length of the putt and also should give you an idea as to whether it is uphill or downhill.

side view of a putt
side view of a putt

Watch Other Players

Pay close attention to any chip shots or putts that other players in your group play. Even if they’re not on a similar line they can still give you information on the speed of the green. Pay close attention to what the ball does near to the hole where it is moving most slowly.

Break Putts Into Sections

If you are facing a long putt then try to break it up into sections, particularly if you are going to have to traverse multiple tiers.

It’s much easier to read a 10-foot putt to the top of a tier and then another 10-foot putt from the top of the tier to the hole rather than trying to judge the whole thing in one go.

The same is true if you think the putt is likely to break in multiple directions. Try to judge each section separately.

Adjust For The Weather Conditions

If the green is exposed and it’s a windy day then you may need to make allowance for more or less break.

The same is true of speed. The quicker the green the more break you will need to allow for. Conversely the slower the green then the less break you will need to play. It doesn’t matter whether it is due to the underlying speed of the green or the fact that a particular putt is up a slope or down a slope.

Playing golf can be really tricky when it’s windy.

Work Out A Routine

Every putting coach will recommend that you develop a routine that you can rely on under pressure. You could probably also apply this to your green reading. Here is a suggested routine for reading greens.

  • Mark your ball and crouch a few feet behind your marker looking at the hole to judge any break.
  • Walk along the low side and take a look about halfway to try and judge if you are putting uphill or downhill.
  • Walk behind the hole and take a look at the putt from there. Pay attention to slopes near the hole as the ball will be moving more slowly.

Having a solid routine is a useful ally when you are under the gun. Make sure that you stick to it.

Read The Grain

In certain climates, the grass used on the green will have a pronounced grain that may affect how the ball runs.

Understanding whether you are putting with or against the grain can help you adjust your line accordingly.

Against the grain putts will be slower than normal and therefore have less break while down grain puts will be faster than normal and therefore require more break.

If the grass looks darker then that means it is into the grain while a lighter shade of green means you are looking down grain.

Remember however that the slope of the green will usually have more effect than the grain.

To Plumb Bob Or Not?

Logically the plumb bob method is really only going to work properly with certain styles of putters.

You really need to be using an old-fashioned Titleist bullseye in my opinion.

I think the fact that fewer and fewer tour professionals tend to use the plumb bob method is telling along with the fact that some of the greatest putters of all time never did, such as Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus and Phil Mickelson.

Green Reading Books

Although these have now been banned on tour (quite rightly so) there’s nothing to stop you from buying them or if you are a club member creating your own.

Make a few simple notes and create some basic diagrams when you play. Very useful long-term as you build up a wealth of knowledge about the greens at your home club.

How To Read Greens: Conclusion

Hopefully, that’s given you some useful information to improve your green reading skills and help you shoot lower scores and have more fun on the golf course.

If you want more help with your putting then take a look at some of these instruction books.

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