How To Read Greens
Problems Reading Greens? Try “plumb bobbing”

We’ve been talking a lot about wedges and bunker play lately, but let’s spend some time today on the other part of the short game – putting.

Reading greens is, in my opinion, truly an art form. I’ve played with guys who show absolute genius, even on courses that are new to them. Jim Klosowski asked about reading breaks, and is looking for help, so I’m going to start this off and ask all of you to chime in with your tips for Jim and the rest of us who might be having trouble reading greens. Specifically, Jim asked:

I find that I under-read break a lot and it is due to not being able to see the variances in the green. Unless it is an obvious greatly breaking putt, I find that I don't see break until after I putt it and then I can kind of see it. My vision is not the issue nor is it my lack of knowledge of how putts break (i.e. away from mountains, toward the water, where does the green drain too, etc.) but actually not seeing the subtle breaks in putts. From 6 feet and out I am not sure if a putt will be totally straight or break a couple of balls. Any tips?

Well, Jim, let’s start with the basics. Putts break due to two factors – slope and grain. If you putt on bent grass or many of the modern hybrids, grain is less a factor. But if you play on courses with Bermuda grass, it can be mind-numbing.

The easiest way to see the grain of the grass is to look at the cup. On the up-grain side, you’ll see a sharp edge to the cup, whereas on the down-grain side, you’ll see exposed stems and roots where the cup was cut. And generally, the grain will grow in the direction of drainage of water, and/or to the setting sun.

But the main issue with break is seeing the often subtle slopes in the green itself, and that is apparently where you have problems. Let me offer you the age-old practice of “plumb bobbing” as a starting point. Some will scoff at this, while others are believers. I’m offering it as a suggestion to at least get you on the starting path to becoming a better green reader.

To “plumb” a putt, hold the putter lightly with only your thumb and forefinger just under the grip. The putter will hang naturally and be perfectly vertical from only two planes. Any face-balanced putter, for example, will hang vertical when the face is pointed directly at or away from the hole. Putters that are not face balanced will have to be rotated until you find its vertical attitude. The easiest way to check this is to hold your putter up and align the shaft with a known vertical “mark”, such as a corner of a building. You’ll typically find that on such putters, the face has to point left of the line to make the shaft perfectly vertical. Once you know your putter’s “true vertical attitude”, note that and duplicate it.

Once you have determined how to establish a vertical “baseline” with your putter shaft, here’s how to “plumb bob” a putt:
1. Position yourself directly behind the ball a few feet, and hold the putter up in its vertical attitude. You are best served standing up straight with your feet about shoulder width apart – this helps you set up perpendicular to the slope of the green.

2. With your master eye, “aim” the shaft so that the lower part of the shaft cuts through the center of the ball (you can use the edge of the shaft for precision). Moving your eyes up this side of the shaft will show that it “registers” right or left in relation to the hole. This will show you the high side and generally define the amount of break that you should allow. But this is not precisely the break – only an indication.

3. More importantly, use your vertical plumb line (the shaft) to see if the hole is cut on a slope – it will “tilt” to one side or the other of the shaft.

4. And use the plumb line to examine the slope of the green itself to see which direction it drains.
There are lots of articles online, and a Google search will yield plenty of reading, much of it negative on the subject of “plumb bobbing” putts. But in your case, Jim – and for any others who have Jim’s challenge with reading putts – you just might find it a good starting point to becoming a better reader of the greens.

Now, I know there are some good players out there, and probably some who excel at reading greens. So, why don’t all of you share your tips and secrets to the art?
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[ comments ]
xrayg1971 says:
i have been doing this for some time now after playing a round with an old timer that was reading greens with great acuracy ... over the course of the round he told me exactly what he was doing and i have been doing it ever since with great accuracy and consistancy. Its also very fast and pretty easy once you become used to it. The word used "indication" is very true .. the speed and line your ball is putted greatly affects the break. but this will give you a great starting point and also a point of consistancy, much like a pre shot routine for putting.

ill explaing my eact routine.
( first off i always draw a line on my ball for putting alignment and driving alignment)
ill look at the putt initially and align my ball and line to that initial view.
step back and check the "bob" eith the putter and see if im good
make adjustments to my ball and line on the ball ..
step up , 2 practice strokes while looking at the hole
hit it ..
im not perfect but i dont 3 putt to often

my 2 cents
6/9/09
 
dsferris says:
I walk the green, I am not great at reading greens because I am a little impatient. However, I have found that walking the green and paying attention to my feet and what I feel helps me with the initial read. My problem isnt the read it is executing the proper speed and actually hitting the line I want.
6/9/09
 
mantajim says:
I always read the putt from three sides. Behind the ball, behind the hole, and half way between the two on the down slope. And check the grain(bermuda) at the cup. A lot of this can be done while other people are putting. Finally as I stand over the putt, I visualize the line the ball will take and stare at the hole, then look back and tell myself "You know exactly how hard to hit the ball to get it to the hole" Then stroke it and DO NOT look up.
6/9/09
 
GolfSmith7 says:
I improved my putting by practicing with a metronome on the putting green. Speed is the most important thing then the line. So hone your speed control and then reading the line will come easier.
6/10/09
 
cbriggsk says:
I am absolutely horrible at reading greens, but my awareness of how horrible I am is a heck of a lot worse for my game than my mis-reads. A mis-read with good speed and a good stroke does not lead to many 3 putts. The putts that lead to 3 jacks seem to be indecisive, tentative, or the worst: attempts to compensate for what feels like it might be a bad read. Pick a spot before you get over the ball and trust it when you get there.
6/12/09
 
windmedia says:
Plumb-bobbing is the bane of 6 hour rounds. Read Dave Pelz's book on putting; it helped me greatly, but is much too long to condense here.
6/20/09
 
ksu_FAN says:
I can see some benefit in plumb bobbing, but agree with windmedia above. I played behind a group this past week that had a player plumb bob from behind the ball AND behind the hole on nearly every putt on every green. We had to wait on nearly every hole for our approach shots and a group behind us went home early. So no matter how you read a green, please don't act like the US Open is on the line every hole and be courteous to the groups behind you.
6/23/09
 
Patrick McKay says:
My grandfather and all of his friends told me plumb bobbing was the way forward. I forgot the steps until now, gonna give er a try.
6/26/09
 
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Terry Koehler is "The Wedge Guy" and President of SCOR Golf- The Short Game Company.

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