What factors go into reading a putt?
Judging a putt is a combination of speed (how fast or slow the ball will roll and, therefore, how far it will travel) and line (direction). However, speed determines line and must be the first point to address when reading a putt – is the green level, uphill or downhill? After the ball has left the putter face, the roll characteristics imparted by the putter gradually subside as surface interaction, gravity and the friction with the surface act on the ball.
The image above highlights the progressive nature of the 1⁰ error, in particular focusing on subtle differences in ball speed for a 20ft putt. The start direction for all the putts is consistent, going through the 5ft and 10ft discs, but by the time the ball reaches 15ft and 20ft feet, differences in ball speed will cause the ball to miss high or low. Can you roll the ball through the centre of ALL 8 Discs?
What factors affecting speed and line can be considered?
- Slope (uphill / downhill / left / right)
- Grass length – Stimp meter reading
- Moisture level in and on the grass
- Base (firmness of green)
- Wind – Plays a subtle effect on your putt. If the wind is blowing in your face at 20 miles per hour or faster, your putt will be a foot short of the hole
The effect of grain:
When playing in warm weather climates such as Asia, the majority of grass will have grain (blades growing in the same direction) that will considerably affect the way the ball rolls. Grain can be so strong, it can even give the impression that the ball moves uphill!
- it more noticeably affects the ball as it slows down
- the ball will be influenced in the direction that the grain grows
- it usually grows towards the setting sun or towards the closest body of water
- you can usually see the grain either by the shine of the grass (shiny = grain is going away from you; dull = grain is coming towards you)
General points to consider when reading a green:
- The first opportunity to read a green is as you are walking up to it.
Take note of the slopes as you approach the green. Pay attention to any drainage areas. Is your ball above or below the hole? Start thinking about the line of the putt as you walk to the green. The best view of the green’s slope (whether it slopes to the right or left) is from 20 yards or so away, standing on the green can’t always tell you this. If the terrain surrounding the green slopes to the right, the green probably slopes to the right. If a green slopes in the opposite direction, it creates an identifiable basin where water collects.
- Get any information you can from approaching chips and putts.
Remember to watch yours or other players in your group, especially if on a similar line to your forthcoming putt. Don’t be confused by the initial path of a ball as different stroke mechanics will impart different spins and launch angles and these cause different lines of travel. Focus mainly on how the ball behaves as it slows down and rolls, particularly around the hole.
- Check from the side of the green if you have an uphill or downhill putt.
You can’t always make this judgment by standing behind the putt. The side view provides the best perspective for this and for determining the speed of the ball. Also, especially for downhill putts, the low side of the green offers the best perspective to see the slope of the terrain.
- Stand behind the hole to judge the area around the hole.
This area is crucial because a ball loses most of its speed by the time it gets to the hole. Here, the terrain will really influence the ball’s direction. Visualise the ball rolling across the green and travelling towards the hole. Imagine your putt is rolling into the hole with the correct speed to travel 12” to 18” past and trust your instincts to reproduce that pace for you.
Imagine pouring a bucket of water on the green between your ball and the hole – which way would the water run?
- Stand behind the ball to make a final decision on the putt’s direction and speed.
When you stand above the ball, your perspective changes, as does your impression of the line. Behind the ball is the best place to take a final look. Get your eyes down lower (that’s why everybody is squatting down to read the putts – the closer your eyes get to the level of the plane you’re trying to see, the better your perspective). An exaggerated version of this is lying down Camilo Villagas style…
- Pick precise targets to putt to.
If you can see it, putt to a blade of grass as your target. Putt to a slight disfiguration at the back of the cup if you cannot make out a blade of grass. Often picking the smallest possible target you can, without straining to see it, may help you with this.
- Once you’ve made the decision, don’t change it.
You’ve done your homework, now deliver the best stroke you can manage!
- I always like to have two or three practice putts next to the ball.
By standing in the same orientation as the putt stance required (watch Padraig Harrington), helps to mimic your desired putt for real and gives your brain a chance to “feel” what you need to do to get the ball into the hole. With Quintic Video Analysis Software, I like to film the last practice stroke and compare it to the actual stroke. I synchronise both strokes and look for the similarities: tempo, length of backswing, transition time, hand position at impact, length of follow through…
- Make sure that you are fully focused on your target while making your practice putts.
Finally, watch the ball if it goes by the hole. Don’t turn away in anger. There’s little feedback during the putting action itself, so you can’t check your reading accuracy until after you hit the ball. Key questions you need to ask yourself are: Did the ball start on my intended line? (Club face alignment) Did it have the right speed? (Centre hit). The answers to these questions are crucial to improving your ability to read greens and sink more putts.
Green reading requires an instinctive feel and your ability will get stronger with time as you build a database of information. You can be sure that the more time you spend practising putting, the faster your progress will be. Pace determines your line and your preferred entry speed for the golf ball. Time to start practising your visualisation.