Improving Your Reading Skills On The Green

By Ingrid Gallo

Great putting is a synthesis of three key elements: good technique, good mental focus and the ability to read greens (calculating the break). If one of these elements falters, you will not have a spectacular day on the golf course. If you have all three working well, you could win a championship.

What is good technique? Good technique involves a smooth, rhythmical stroke with two non-moving parts: a quiet head and a stable left wrist position throughout the stroke. I have seen some very successful touring pros stand slightly open (about 10 degrees), but most stand parallel to target line.

The quiet head allows the player to swing accurately down the target line. If the head moves, the shoulder line moves, taking the putter off line from the intended target. The stable left wrist angle (for a right-handed player) ensures that you are not pre-releasing the club, which would affect your ability to control distance.

What does it mean to have command of your mental game? You are most successful when you firmly believe you can make the putt. That means that after you have assessed the green and have determined where to aim the putt, you have a confident feel for the distance.

Once you have set up to the ball, if there is anything that interferes with this confidence, you have to back away from the ball and start over with your set up. You cannot have fear, doubt or anxiety looming in your head when you are trying to hole out a putt. You need to assess the line quickly and commit to the feel for distance before you set up to the ball. Once you are over the ball, you merely execute the stroke.

When playing a new course, if you cannot determine how fast or slow the greens are, within the first three holes of play, it will prey on you psyche and you will really have to work hard to capitalize on those opportunities to make birdies.

Breaking Putts – the Basics of How to Start: Always start by viewing the overall landscape of the green. It’s easy to do if you are walking the course. As you approach the green, start observing the landscape of the green from about fifty yards away. Your first impression will show you the overall lay of the land and whether it slopes up, to the side or away from you. The flagstick will help you focus on the slope near the hole.

If you have a small chip shot from the fringe, observe the direction in which the ball rolls and whether the green is fast or slow. Watch the approach shots of the others in your group, too.

When walking up to mark your ball, your feet will gather information for you on whether the surface is soft or hard, uphill or downhill. This information doesn’t speak loudly to you, but it’s all part of the overall package of assessing your situation.

Finally, when you get behind your ball, crouch down and see which side of the cup is higher than the other. For example, if the left side of the cup is higher and you are on a side hill-downhill slope, the ball will move across the slope from left to right, falling off the line as the ball approaches the hole. You will then decide to compensate by aiming to the high slide of the hole, that is, on the left side. How far you aim to the left depends on how fast the green is rolling.

The subtleties of the read The art of skillful reading of the greens is based on your visual assessment of the current situation and the history of your golf experience. You may be one of those golfers who can really see a line from your ball to the hole and all you have to determine is the apex of the curve. Once you have done that, you aim to that point of the apex.

In assessing the putt before you set up, you may go to different locations on the green to view the slope, not just behind the ball. While you are doing this, you’ll see the sheen of the grass. The shiny grass means the grain is going away from you, the dull look means it is going towards you. You can also look at the cup to see which way the grass is growing. Going with the grain is faster and will influence the putt.

How do I develop good reading technique?
The good news is that you can become good at reading greens with practice and experience. Try to play different styles of golf courses. If you play the same course all of the time, you might become complacent, unless, of course, you play on greens that have a lot of undulation.

Tournament players build their repertoire early since competition requires them to play different courses on a regular basis. You soon learn how to adapt quickly to different greens.

A simple drill to learn the art of playing the break is to set down ten balls that circle the cup, say fifteen to twenty feet away from the hole. Each putt is the same distance, but each putt may have a slightly different break based on how much of the slope the ball must cross on its journey to the hole. You will also find that the speed of the putt will vary, going uphill or downhill. All of this practice is teaching you how adapt and develop p a feel distance.

How important is speed? Determining speed is one of the challenges in putting, and it works closely with how well you read the break. It tests your ability to feel the distance. Once again, this is learned by repeated practice sessions that give you mental confidence when the pressure is on. If the ball travels at a fast speed, it goes by the hole and breaks after the hole. If it is struck with less acceleration, it falls off line before it reaches the hole.

If you are a lag putter, it means that you like to “die “the ball into the hole. Then you have to build in more break into your read. Most golfers always underestimate the amount of break they should play. You really want to miss the hole on the high side of the slope, not the low side. Missing it on the low side means you never gave the ball a chance to go into the hole.

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