It's a Grainy Issue
One of the true arts to be learned to play your best golf is that of reading greens accurately. It's obviously one that can be learned, but those that can dissect breaks to perfection have always impressed me. We have very difficult greens at our club, and you’ll get some putts that seem to defy gravity and logic. But we also have a number of players who seem to have a connection of some kind, as they consistently do NOT get fooled by a putt’s break.

Today's topic was introduced by John, who asked:
"Can you give some tips for reading grain on the greens? The concepts of the grass grain seems very mysterious."
Well, John, “mysterious” is certainly a great word to describe the entire art of reading greens, and the fact that the grain of the grass plays into the formula as well complicates it even more. Let’s see if we can shed some light on the subject for you.

First of all, grain plays into the break of a putt differently on various types of grass, and with various methods of manicuring that grass. Bermuda strains are considered the most grainy, as they have a stem/leaf structure that is more pronounced than Bent. What that means is that the grass grows along the ground, sending out stems or runner, from which the leaf grows. Course superintendents can keep the “graininess” controlled by verti-cutting, which takes out some of the “stem-iness” and reduces grain effect. Typically, the thicker the grass, the more pronounced the effect of the grain will be.

It is against the rules to “test” the grain by dragging your putter across the green, for example, but you can do an examination on the putting green before you play a new course. Typically, it’s the same grass, maintained the same way. Go over to the edge of the putting green and take your ballmark repair tool or a tee and gently lift up the grass to see how thick the thatch is and how extensive the grain might be. You can expect the course greens to be similar.

So, now that you understand the grain, how does it affect your putting, and how do you read it?

Some common idioms about grain are that the grass grows toward the nearest water, or away from the mountains, or toward the setting sun. But according to my course superintendent . . . very simply, grass grows in the direction of the natural drainage of water off the green. This means that on any given green, the grain will run in several directions based on that.

Since water doesn’t run uphill, grain doesn’t either. If your putt is downhill, it will generally be with the grain, so speed will be increased by that factor – grainy greens will be faster downhill than the slope would indicate; uphill putts will be slower. Putting across the grain will affect the amount a putt breaks. If your “read” shows a right lip putt, but the grain is going left to right, then it is not likely to move that much. Conversely, if the grain is growing right to left, allow a little more.

One trick for reading grain on any putt is to carefully look at the hole. If it is later in the day on reasonably grainy greens, one side of the hole will still be sharp – the up-grain side. The down-grain side will be somewhat ragged where the roots and stems were cut when the hole was made.

John, I hope that helps you understand the basics of grain, and takes a few shots off your scores. This new EIDOLON wedge you won by asking is sure to help shave some more.

Thanks for reading, and all of you remember, with the link to EIDOLON from the ad at the top, you’ll get special Christmas pricing of $79 – our lowest price ever, and your last chance to get the kind of spin that has helped us earn our reputation. Get’em while they last.

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[ comments ]
sepfeiff says:
Good stuff, I've been struggling on grainy greens lately.
jfurr says:
Thanks for the info, Terry & also looking forward to the new wedge!
Kickntrue says:
Good stuff. Not sure how many shots this info would actually save, but it sure is interesting.
raygrinberg says:
Terry, doesn't the prevailing sun also have an affect on grain?
bducharm says:
@raygrinberg - it is said that grain will grow towards the setting sun. This is typically true unless there are other factors in play (up hill towards the west, etc.).
SD Charlie says:
Prevailing sun? Last time I checked we only had one sun - nothing for it to prevail over?
KVSmith59 says:
lol. once thing i've been told is that if the green appears "shiny", then the grain is moving away from you. If not shiny, it's coming at you
Dave Woolley says:
Our pro maintains the grain follows the natural drainage of the green . If a pin is on a flat portion of a green, then grain will tend to run towards the setting sun. Looking at the cup for the ragged edge (the down-grain side) is critical if it is a cross-grain putt. Grain tends to cause the 'hockey-stick' break in side-slope-hill / cross-grain putts in the last 10% of a putt's roll.

When a putt breaks when you did not expect it, one to three things could have happened:
1. You misread the slope / grain. You didn't see the end of a shoulder or slight hump in the last 10% of the roll, or a more major shoulder earlier in the roll.
2. The green before the hole was flat and the sun was affecting the direction of the grain around the hole.
3. Your blade was opening or closing when you struck the ball putting a slight spin on the ball.

If you have time after missed putt (i.e., no group is waiting; your group has putted out), hit another putt to learn the cause of the error.
Dave Woolley says:
If the trechniques behind reading grain sound like to much work, use Tom Watson's 4-step strategy for reading grain and slope in subtle greens.
1. Lag your first putt within 3 feet of the hole.
2. Keep the line of your second putt within the hole diameter.
3. Hit it firm on the line like it is a 5-foot putt.
4. If you miss the line, you will know the line on the 4-footer coming back :-)
hp says:
Reading grain on putts is important if you want to save a few strokes per round (especially important on thicker bladed grasses like Bermuda). On a 10 foot straight putt, I think grain can affect your putt by as much as 1 ball. That means if you ignore perpendicular grain, you are shrinking the cup size from 2.5 ball widths to 1.5 ball widths. Why make it tougher on yourself? I always walk up to the last 4 feet of the putt and study the break and grain. This is where it really matters since this is where the ball will lose speed and both of those factors will really take hold.
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Terry Koehler is "The Wedge Guy" and President of SCOR Golf- The Short Game Company.

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