At some point in time, there’s no doubt you’ve watched the pros on TV and thought to yourself: why do they hold their putter in the air when reading greens?
I’ve been playing golf for many years and only recently did I discover there is actually a proper name to describe this method of lining up putts: it’s called plumb bobbing.
So, what is plumb bobbing in golf, you ask?
Plumb bobbing is a long-proven method golfers use to read greens. To help determine which way a putt will break, players dangle their putter in front of their face, with their dominant eye closed, and align the club shaft with the ball. If the grip appears to the left of the hole, the putt will break right (and vice versa).
The technique derives its name from the traditional plumb bob (also known as a ‘plummet’) which, according to Wikipedia, is “a weight, usually with a pointed tip on the bottom, suspended from a string and used as a vertical reference line, or plumb-line”.
In golf, the putter head acts as the weight, while the club shaft substitutes as the string and is used as the vertical reference line – hence, creating a ‘plumb bob’ when dangled in the air by the player.
But if plumb bobbing is such a simple, fool-proof method, then why aren’t we all making every single putt we look at when using it?
While plumb bobbing can certainly improve your putting if done correctly, there are other important elements that will contribute to your success on the greens – such as choosing a grip technique that suits your stroke, deciding on whether to fit a thick or thin grip, putting with or without a glove on, and also getting your alignment right.
Personally, I’ve never particularly loved plumb bobbing as a way to read breaks, but I’ll explain exactly how this tried-and-true method works so that you can try it out for yourself.
Many golfers swear by it, and it could be the gamechanger you’ve been looking for.
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How do you use the plumb bob method when putting?
To plumb bob a putt, take your putter and hold it in front of your face. Grip the handle lightly with your thumb and index finger to let it hang naturally. Close your dominant eye and align the club shaft so it covers the centre of the ball, but also dissects the hole. Whichever side of the hole the putter grip appears, the putt will break in the opposite direction.
That, in a nutshell, is how plumb bobbing is done when putting.
But there are some additional nuances you need to factor in when doing each of these steps in order to get the most accurate read on the greens.
Let’s take a look at each of these steps in more detail.
Hold the putter correctly
One of the most important elements of plumb bobbing is making sure you let the putter dangle naturally in front of your face – you don’t want to interfere with how it hangs by gripping it too tightly as this will create a false vertical line, and cause an inaccurate reading.
To allow the putter to hang under its own weight, simply grip the handle lightly – preferably in the middle or just above the shaft – using only your thumb and index finger.
How to align the putter
Once you’ve got the putter hanging correctly, it’s time to line it up with the ball and hole in the correct manner.
It makes little difference whether you read the putt while squatting or standing behind the ball (not everyone has the mobility to crouch down low on the greens, especially if they have dodgy knees).
What matters most is that you position yourself so you can line the putt up correctly.
To do this, follow these steps:
- Stand in a straight line between you, the ball and the hole
- Close your dominant eye (for this example it will be your right eye) and hold the putter up so that the left edge of the club shaft dissects the centre of the ball
- Allow the putter to hang naturally like a plumb bob
- If you look to the top of the handle, the grip will be positioned either to the left or right of the hole
- If the grip appears left of the hole, the putt should break right; if the grip appears right of the hole, the putt should break left
For some players – especially those who struggle to read greens – using the plumb bob method may greatly improve their putting performance.
Other players, however, may prefer to use alternative methods of evaluating the break of their putts.
At the end of the day, it all comes down to personal preference – however, the benefits of plumb bobbing, which has been used by golfers for decades, cannot be understated.
As Australian pro golfer and former Ladies European Tour player Anne Rollo explains:
I’m not necessarily advocating this method because there’s different schools of thought as to whether it can work or not.
But I, myself, used to use it and I really loved it, and I thought it gave me a lot of confidence.
If it’s something that gives you extra confidence when putting, it’s not a bad thing.
The best approach would be to try it next time you’re out at your local course – or even practicing on your own undulating indoor putting green at home – to see whether you like it or not.
Does plumb bobbing a putt work?
Plumb bobbing when putting works effectively if done correctly, especially on shorter putts. Making sure you line the putter shaft up correctly with the ball and hole; gripping the handle loosely enough; and closing your dominant eye are three key steps to plumb bobbing putts the right way.
The only time it’s not recommended to use plumb bobbing is for longer putts when there are multiple breaks in the green between your ball and the hole, as it makes it far more difficult to read.
But no matter how many people advocate for the use of plumb bobbing, it will always divide opinion as to its effectiveness.
Some golfers absolutely swear by plumb bobbing and are adamant it helps them pick their putting lines better, while others will argue it doesn’t work very well at all.
Ultimately, plumb bobbing is a matter of personal preference – if you gain confidence on the greens by using it, then don’t let the naysayers tell you otherwise.
Why does a plumb bob work?
A traditional plumb bob, which consists of a weight dangling from a string, uses gravity to establish a ‘plumb’ line (that is, what is exactly vertical, or true). In golf, your putter head acts as the weight, and the shaft as the line to form the plumb bob. Establishing this line should, theoretically, help you detect any slopes on the green.
Basically, by creating an exact vertical line as your reference point, it should make any breaks on the putting surface become more distinguishable and aid you in determining where to aim your putt.
The plumb bob has commonly been used this way for centuries, way before golf even existed – it’s believed the Egyptians used them to establish verticals when constructing the pyramids.
But while it has been a tried-and-true engineering method, how well it works for green reading is still up for debate.
Why do golfers hold the putter up?
Golfers hold the putter up in the air when using the ‘plumb bob’ method to read greens. By holding the putter in the air, they are trying to create an exact vertical line between the putter handle, shaft, clubhead (using gravity), ball and hole, which can help them determine which way their putt will break.
So, next time you see the pros on TV holding their putter in the air, you’ll know they’re not just doing it for show – they’re actually trying to determine how much slope there is on the green to give them feedback on where to aim their putt.
Plumb bobbing has been a common green reading method used by golfers for years, but the jury is still out on just how effective this method is.
Some players swear by it, while others think it’s nothing more than a gimmick.
The best way to decide whether plumb bobbing is a good fit for you is to try it next time you’re out practicing on the course.
If you find it helps your putting, then it might be something worth incorporating into your pre-putt routine when reading greens.