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Golf tips on green and putt reading

Updated on October 21, 2014

Green reading vs Putt reading

Golf putting is an endless subject. Those who have serious problems reading greens and putts may find here some tips that will provide help to better understand the green area their ball will have to cross on its way to the hole. As a result, they will hole more putts and get lower scores.


If you are one of those lucky golfers that squat, observe the green between the ball and the hole and see immediately and without any doubts the line of your putt, this article is not to you. Don't waste your time reading it.

by MoreThanGolf, in Flickr
by MoreThanGolf, in Flickr

Read the green before you get there

Green reading is different from putt reading. In the first case you want an overall picture of the green and the best solution is to take it from the outside, as you approach the green. Discover if the overall slope is to the right or left, if there are ridges, if it is a multi-tiered green, if there are concavities or convexities, and so on. On the contrary you read putts when you are on the green to picture with all affordable detail the ground over which your ball will move on its way to the hole.

Green reading gives an overview of the green but it is of limited importance for that specific putt that you are about to make. It only helps if you can't make up your mind about a putt and decide to use the overall picture to untie between the options. There are some general rules that usually can be taken as granted. For instance:

a) Flat and level greens do not exist (the need to drain the water of the greens explains why - yes, golf course architects always build greens with some slope)

b) Greens slope from the back to the front

c) If there is water close to the green, the slope is always towards the water

read the putt
read the putt

Read the putt after you are on the green

Putt reading is another business. You must look for details and focus entirely in the area between the ball and the hole.

The first point is to discover if the putt goes up, or down or the ball and the hole are at the same level. This point is important because the putting line is very different for each case. The best way to find it is:

a) Look for a spot that is roughly at the same distance from the hole and the ball and not very close to the ball-hole line and don’t care if you are on the higher or lower part of the green in relation to that line. Stand or squat on that point. I always stand, try to be on the lower side and that my distance to the ball-hole line beats the ball-hole distance but this is personal. Standing on that point, you, the ball and the hole are forming a triangle, an isosceles triangle because two sides of it are equal. Remember that the spot was chosen to be at the same distance from the hole and the ball.

b) Align yourself in order to let your shoulders parallel to the ball-hole line. Use both your forefingers to handle your putter and raise your arms, keeping them straight, till the putter’s shaft is horizontal in front of you and parallel to your shoulders.

Now, your eyes and the club shaft define a plane in which any straight line parallel to the club shaft is horizontal. So, just move slowly both arms, keeping the putter horizontal, till you see it touching the hole. Now, the image of the club shaft you see on the ground is a horizontal line that will tell you if the ball is above or bellow the hole and how much. See the next image:

I agree this is not as accurate as an electronic meter but, so far, the choice is between this technique and nothing allowed by golf rules. Besides, we can take some steps to improve it.

First, do it while the pin is in the cup. It’s vertical and will help to see if the shaft is horizontal because both lines are perpendicular.

Second, you can train your eyes as much as you want because horizontal lines are everywhere to help you confirm your guesses. For instance, any house or building has horizontals on the top of doors, windows, walls, etc. Put yourself with your shoulders parallel to a wall, holding your putter the way mentioned before and move both arms at the same time in order to adjust the shaft image to the top of a door or window and calibrate your horizontals. You’ll discover that this technique is pretty accurate.

A final note on this technique: It doesn’t matter if a putt starts, or finishes, uphill or downhill. If ball’s level at start is below hole’s level you face a uphill putt. If ball’s level at start is above hole’s level you face a downhill putt even if the ball starts uphill. See the next image for downhill example.

And now comes the most difficult part, finding if there is any visible break and if it is from right to left or vice versa. No need to explain what all of you already know. The player squats behind the hole and looks towards the ball to try to draw a conclusion. Then, repeats the process behind the ball to double check and eventually get more information. You only get in trouble if you get different results from both readings.

This is a very common problem that I'll call "biased green reading" and that can be described as a tendency to see always the green sloping in the same way. You observe carefully from the ball's side and there's no doubt it will break slightly say, from your right to your left, that is North to South (N/S), in this example. Now, let's have a look from the other side to get a clearer picture. And ... oops! It breaks again slightly from your right to your left, that is South to North (S/N), in the same example.

If it's a long putt perhaps you have a double break but if this situation happens to you all the time it is wise to consider that you are a biased green reader. In the first case perhaps you can get some relief reading this article:

Beware of a Common Pitfall in Golf Putting

But if you are a biased green reader it is time to let you know my tip. Just don't read the putt with both eyes open. Close the non-dominant eye and read the putt from both sides using only your dominant eye. Chances are that you'll get coincident information that will let you anticipate your putting line in a more confident way.

If you don't know which one is your dominant eye, do this:

a) With both eyes open, use your index finger to point to an object in front of you.

b) Without moving your head close your left eye. If your finger remains aligned, your dominant eye is the right one.

c) If your finger doesn't remain aligned, open the left eye and close the right one. Now your finger must stay aligned and your dominant eye is the left one.

One last comment . . .

Reading greens and putts is important but will be useless if you don't know what to do with all the information you gathered. I invite you to visit my site Golf Putting Lines a solution provider for the problems posed by breaking putts and the understanding of sloping greens.

Go to Amazon and . . . find a way to improve your golf putting

Putting My Way: A Lifetime's Worth of Tips from Golf's All-Time Greatest
Putting My Way: A Lifetime's Worth of Tips from Golf's All-Time Greatest

If this man can't teach us anything about golf putting, who else can?


Reader's Feedback. Hi! You are welcome here. Any comments, suggestions, doubts, criticism, etc, will be appreciated.

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