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How To Read the Breaks on Greens

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There are many aspects to golf and most of them revolve around the striking of the ball, whether it be off the tee, from the fairway, or around the green. Once you’ve reached the green, the act of getting the ball into the hole becomes a task of finite precision that can dramatically impact your scores. The art of making putts is based on two key components, the proper speed, as well as the slope/grain of the greens. Combining these two is the winning recipe for more holed putts and lowered scores. Continue reading as we break down how to read the breaks on greens!

Attention to Everything

In the world of golf instruction, most of the attention goes into putting speed, and how to dial yours in. While this is a very important element to good putting, it’s only about half of the equation. You can have the best putting speed on earth, but if you don’t get the ball started on the correct line, your chances of making putts are hindered.

There is good reason why reading greens doesn’t get as much attention as speed or stroke mechanics. The most profound reason is that it’s infinitely complex. Depending on the person, every putt can be seen as having a different break based on how much speed the putt has when it approaches the hole. Despite the complexity, there are some general guidelines for those who struggle with reading greens that will help you read greens easier and give yourself better chances to make more putts.

Guideline #1: Play More Break Than You Think/See

Just like every putt left short has no chance of going in, the same principle applies to playing for break. If the putt ends up below the hole before it gets there, unless it hits a pebble and kicks back to the hole, gravity will be working against you, making it impossible to make putts. It is far better to play more break and adjust back than it is to constantly fight the slope or hit putts harder to keep them on-line.

Guideline #2: How to Make the Hole “Wider”

When visualizing a putt, it’s easy to see a ball entering from the front side. However, it’s important to understand that as a putt breaks more, the line of which the ball will enter the hole moves from the front to the sides, depending on the slope.

How To Read the Breaks on Greens

If you look at the hole like a clock, which is shown above, straight putts can enter anywhere from 9 to 3 o’clock (depending on the speed). As the amount of slope in question increases, particularly the amount of slope where the hole is cut, the front of the hole becomes less of a target, as the ball will tend to enter from 9-7 and 3-5, depending on which direction where the putt breaks. Adjusting your focus to where the ball is most likely to enter the hole will help you play the correct amount of break more often.

Guideline #3: Go With Your First Instincts

Most often, when you stand behind a putt, your initial read is likely to be the most correct. The more you spend examining your putt, the more you question your read, the more likely you will confuse yourself, which will lead to more analysis. This not only makes hitting the putt on-line more challenging, it also slows down the pace of play and puts a burden on your playing partners.

If you are unsure of your read, it’s best to look at your putt from another angle, most preferably from the opposite side of the hole. If your look from behind the hole confirms your initial read, stand up to your putt and put your best stroke on it before you second-guess yourself again.

Guideline #4: Understand Your Odds

Even the best players in the world don’t get reading greens right as often as one may think. The players who are shown on TV are playing great and are beating the averages by a wide margin, which is what separates those who win tournaments from those who don’t. If you’re an average player, any putt from six feet or longer is a 50/50 proposition, with odds declining rapidly the farther away you get.

If you miss a 10 footer and someone in your group says it was a misread, remember that even good players make maybe 40% of putts from 10 feet. If you give yourself plenty of opportunities and get your reads within a certain range of accuracy, the putts will begin to fall sooner rather than later.

How to Practice Green Reading

For an effective drill, get yourself about fifteen feet of string and two long tees. Tie the string to each tee and find yourself any putt within 5-12 feet. Once you find a good putt for practice, stick one of the tees into the ground near where you want it to start. Then, take a look behind the putt. How much break do you see? Once you have your guess, extend the string on your intended line about a foot past the hole.

Any extra string should be wrapped around the tee so that the string sits above the ground, at least high enough for the ball to roll under it. Once you have your line established, try a couple putts, focusing only on the string. How was your initial guess? If your string is off, you can adjust the tee behind the hole left or right until you find a line that allows you to make the putt. Once you find that sweet spot with your string, try to make five in a row. Once you make five, change the position of the tee/string combo for a putt with a different break.

Also, don’t forget to include putts with uphill and downhill slopes as well. After four or five of these different breaks, take a ball and try every putt without the string. Finally, try a few putts of similar length that you didn’t do with the drill. How much closer are your reads now?

How About Longer Putts?

Could you do this with putts longer than 10 feet? Yes and no. While it’s possible, the setup of tees and string is difficult. If you’re really adamant about trying longer putts, try setting up a “gate” with two tees that your putter can swing through. It’s not nearly as effective than it would be with shorter putts because you have a reasonable chance of making the shorter ones.

The Takeaway

Reading greens is a skill that repetition can sharpen. Try this drill, and the four guidelines, and watch more putts drop the next time you play! Good luck out there!

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