Four Rules for Reading Greens and Anticipating Break

Four Rules for Reading Greens and Anticipating Break

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series Putting

Evaluating putts is the key to becoming great at reading greens and anticipating break. Four simple rules will make you superb at both!

Four key principles will make you a wizard at reading greens, anticipating break, and making putts. If you’ve read Comprehensive Keys to the Green, you’ll know why they work — and a lot of other things, besides. And even if you have read the book,  these few short rules will make it easy to apply that information as you work your way around the course. (I plan to make a video to illustrate the principles explained here. When I do, I’ll add a link to it.)

Reading this article may improve your putting. Drastically. But it also contains several nefarious, subliminal messages. (Buy the book!) Read it at your peril!

Your Initial Read

As always, videos are a great way to show you how do to things. Break 100: Master the art of reading greens has a good one that can help you anticipate the direction the ball will break. The principles are summarized quite nicely in the article:

Think of yourself as a human balancing machine.

Stand with both feet together behind the ball, and see if one foot feels slightly lighter than the other. If it does, the slope is favouring the heavier foot.

If one foot feels lighter, putt to that side of the hole!

Very nice, very succinct advice. So I’ve included it here as a bonus. But once you’ve made your initial read, everything boiling down to understanding what happened after you stroked the putt. In short, the key to great putting is knowing how to evaluate your putts.

The key to great putting is knowing how to evaluate your putts. Share on X

Green Speed is Critical

The reason that the ability to evaluate putts is so important is that it gives you a feel for green speed. Consider this:

  • The right line — the amount of break to expect — depends on distance from the hole, degree and direction of slope, and green speed.
    • When you’re further from the hole the ball will more break more. So a six-inch break at 3 feet can become a 3 foot break at 15 feet.
    • The steeper the slope, and the more you’re putting across it, the more break you’ll see.
    • The faster the green, the more break you’ll see.
  • The right speed — how firmly to putt — depends on distance from the hole, degree and direction of slope, and green speed.
    • When you’re further from the hole, you need to putt more firmly.
    • The steeper the slope, and the more you’re putting into it, the more firmly you need to putt.
    • The slower the green, the more firmly you need to putt.

Now, you can see the degree and direction of slope. And you can feel it in your feet as you walk around the hole. And you can certainly see your distance from the hole. The one thing you can’t see is green speed. And that’s a critical aspect for your choice of line and the speed.

When you know for sure whether your line or speed was off (or both) and by how much, you can begin to make the right adjustments! For one thing, you won’t start putting faster when you should be correcting your read — and therefore missing by a mile, when you miss. And in the process, you’ll begin developing a feel for green speed — the one aspect of a putt you can’t see.

Evaluating Putts

Right at the outset, you need to know that understanding the speed of the putt you just made is the most important thing there is to know, for the simple reason that it tells you the speed of the green. That’s important, because green speed has an effect on both on how much break to expect, and how firmly you should putt.

The very first thing you absolutely need to know, then, is whether you had the speed right when you made your putt. And, of course, you need to know if you made the right read. Distinguishing between those two aspects of a putt is the key to becoming a great putter — and it’s skill that few have mastered, in the past.

Here’s what you need to know:

  1. Your speed was perfect if
    as the ball comes to rest, if the last inch of travel is directly towards the hole or directly away from it. (The further away from that line you are, the more your speed was off.)
  2. Your read was perfect if
    when the ball comes to rest, it is directly on a line between you and the hole, or on an extension of that line past the hole. (The further away from that line you are, the more your read was off.)

If the ball is traveling directly towards the hole or directly away from it when it comes to rest, then it is right on the fall line — a line going in the direction of the slope that runs through the hole. (That principle is explained in detail in the book.) Ideally you want every putt ending up on that line, whether or not it goes into the hole.

Ideally, you want every putt to finish on the fall line, going towards the hole, or directly away. Share on X

If your putts are consistently finishing near the fall line, then your sense of green speed is right where it needs to be, which means you’ll be able to trust your read and trust your sense of how firmly to putt.

If they’re not finishing there, then in addition to adjusting your putting strength, you’ll also need to adjust how much break you anticipate. That’s next.

Anticipating Break

Comprehensive Keys to the Green has quite a bit of information on reading greens and looking at slopes. Those principles help you anticipate the direction the ball will break as it travels to the hole. But it is possibly even more important to understand how much the ball will break. In other words, you need to anticipate the amount of break.

Adding two more rules to what you’ve already learned will help to do that:

  1. If you keep coming up short, then the greens are slower than your instincts are telling you.
    In that case:

    • Expect less break than you think you’ll get.
    • Putt with more speed than you think you need.
  2. If you keep going long, then the greens are faster than you’re imagining.
    In that case:

    • Expect more break.
    • Putt with less speed.

What About Grain?

It’s important to understand that simple rules you just learned (#3 and #4) apply to greens that do not have a grain. As explained in “The Effect of Grain” in Comprehensive Keys to the Green, grain makes a big difference. Depending on how the grain is running, in fact, you may need to “mix and match” those rules in one of two ways:

  1. Expect more break and also putt with more speed.
  2. Expect less break and also putt with less speed.

To keep this post short, I won’t go into detail here. (Buy the book!) I’ll just say that right off the bat you need to know that when your putts are consistently going short or long, you need to know whether that tendency is down grain, up grain, or cross grain. So there are three categories in which to evaluate your speed, rather than just one.

Then there is the matter of how to apply that information. With no grain, it’s pretty simple: You either putt with less speed and allow more break, or you putt with more speed and allow less break. It’s always one of those two. But if the greens have grain, things are more complex.

If the grain is going uphill for example, and you’re putting across it, then you may need to putt with less speed (because the putt will be going with the grain when it starts), and at the same time allow less break (because the grain will be working against the break). But if the grain is going downhill, you might need to putt with more speed and allow for more break.

I don’t usually putt on greens with grain, so the section of the book that covers grain is pretty short. It doesn’t say a whole lot more than what I’ve already said here, in fact. But you could still learn a thing or two. (Buy it anyway!)

Here’s to becoming a great putter!

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