While the pros have a caddy to lean on when reading greens, unfortunately most amateur golfers have only themselves to rely on when picking their putting line.
When watching the world’s top players pour in putts from everywhere on TV, it can be easy to fall into the trap of seeing the end result – the ball dropping into the hole – rather than analysing the process that led to it.
Because when it boils down to, putting is all about preparation.
Of course, you need a good grip technique and the ability to pick your line and hit to it – both of which can be honed by hours of practice at home on your indoor putting green.
In fact, here at Project Golf Australia we’ve written some putting articles, which I’ve listed below that I definitely recommend you read if you’re truly serious about improving your game:
- Should you wear a glove while putting?
- 7 golf putting grip styles: But which technique is best?
- Putting alignment: How to line up putts better
- Plumb bobbing: Can it help your green reading?
- How do putter weights work? When to go heavy or light
- 14 golf putting aids to help train a better stroke
But most of the hard work on the greens, especially during a competition round, comes before you actually send the ball on its merry way (we’ve all seen Tiger Woods stalk a putt like a lion hunting its prey).
Below, I’ll share with you some tips to improve your green reading so that, hopefully, you can begin to hole more putts.
I can certainly vouch for these steps as since I’ve incorporated many of them into my pre-shot routine, I’ve seen my putting performances improve dramatically.
Table of contents
1. Arrive early and hit practice putts
There is no better way to acclimatise yourself to the pace of a green than by hitting a few practice putts before heading to the first tee.
Most golf clubs – whether private or public – will have a practice putting area with surfaces running nearly identical on the stimpmeter to the greens out on the course.
Try setting your alarm 20 minutes earlier than what you normally would and get yourself to the course with plenty of time to warm up and roll a few putts.
This is especially essential if you’re playing away from your home track, where you may not be used to the pace of the greens at neighbouring courses.
Simply making a few putts can help you get used to the speed quicker out on the course, which in theory should help you lag the ball better and reduce the likelihood of three-putting (either from flying the ball too far past the hole, or leaving it well short).
To ensure you’re putting on your intended target line, it’s worth placing some tees or an aid like the PuttOut Pro Putting Gates on the practice green and trying to roll your ball through them.
2. Watch your partners putt
The best thing about your playing partners getting inside you on their approach shots is being able to watch them putt, and seeing how their ball reacts on the green.
But the astute golfer will be taking in every bit of information they possibly can – and there’s a great deal that can be learned from watching other players roll the rock before you do, such as speed, break and line.
Note: Make sure you don’t too eager for a read and distract other players while they putt – only begin reading their putt after they’ve struck the ball, and be sure not to stand in their line of vision, as this is poor etiquette.
3. Read your putt from both directions
It goes without saying, but if you’re not reading your putts from both directions before pulling the trigger, then you’re leaving some valuable insight and information on the table.
A single putt can look very different from two angles – you may not notice any break in the green while standing behind the ball, yet it becomes crystal clear when you assess it looking backwards from the hole.
To save time and prevent slow play, start analysing your putt from all directions while your playing partners are lining theirs up – however, remember to stand still when they’re putting, as doing otherwise may distract them.
4. Determine if the putt is flat, uphill or downhill
It seems like an obvious one, but determining whether your putt is flat, uphill or downhill will have a flow-on effect to the rest of your preparation.
For example, if the putt is uphill you can afford to be a little more aggressive as you’re less likely to blast it well past the hole; by contrast, downhill putts need a more delicate touch to avoid leaving yourself too much coming back if you miss.
Similarly, figuring out whether the putt is steeply uphill or downhill will also determine how much break there is, which will have an impact on your starting line.
5. Don’t be scared to use your feet
If you’re struggling to figure out if there’s any break in your putt, another method you can try is simply standing with your feet either side of the ball.
If the green slopes severely left-to-right, it’s likely your left foot will feel slightly higher than your right – and vice versa if the putt slopes the other way.
Australian golf star and 2013 Masters winner Adam Scott regularly includes this technique as part of his pre-shot routine.
Regardless of whether you’re wearing proper golf shoes or not, using this technique can give some valuable additional feedback about the slopes of the green.
6. Break the putt into sections
When using your feet as mentioned above, it’s important to do so at multiple checkpoints along your intended putting line.
This will give you an idea of whether the putt flattens out as it gets closer to the hole, or even breaks both ways.
For longer putts – especially ones where your intention is to lag it close, rather than hole it – try visualising how your putt will behave in three or four-feet sections.
This will help you paint a mental roadmap of how your ball will react and roll on the green and will give you a clearer picture of your line, but also the pace required to snuggle it close to the hole for a tap-in.
7. Check how the hole is cut to assess grain
Now, this isn’t a fool-proof technique, but it can certainly help inform your decision-making process when deciding on the direction your putt will break.
If you look closely at the hole, you may notice the grain on one edge appears rougher than the other – almost as if it has been burned.
This can sometimes indicate the hole has been cut into the grain, suggesting the side with the rougher edge is uphill.
Of course, this isn’t always definitive (the greenskeeper may have just done a really rough job cutting the hole), but it can help you make a final decision about the break of the green if you have any lingering uncertainty before pulling the trigger.
8. Decide if you’re lagging or rolling your putt firm
You may think I’m stating the bleeding obvious, but indecision when it comes to speed can be devastating to your putting.
Before you putt, you need to be crystal clear on your intentions: are you trying to hole the putt, or are you trying to lag it close for an easy tap-in?
Many weekend warriors get sucked into trying to make everything – even from 30-plus feet – and in doing so become blinded to all the subtle variations on the green, which can result in leaving putts well short or long.
Instead, decide on your approach – are you hitting it firm? In that case, your putt will break less. Are you hitting it soft? In that case, your putt will break more.
Being decisive on your intended speed is essential for picking your line, so make sure you have a clear picture of how hard you need to hit your putt before settling on your alignment.
If you struggle with getting your pace right, it might be worth looking at getting an indoor putting green like the ProInfinity Mat, which has line markings at one-foot increments.
Having this visual guide will help you practice and fine-tune how long your backswing needs to be for putts of different lengths.
9. Find the apex of the putt
If you only focus on one tip from this list, please make it this one. I cannot stress this enough.
The apex of the putt is the point in which the ball will start turning towards the hole – and figuring out precisely where it is will impact every other decision, including line and speed.
After you’ve been through all the other steps above (such as using your feet to assess break, and determining if your putt is uphill or downhill) then you’re ready to select a point on the green that you believe is the apex.
Once you’ve decided this, all that’s left to do is to putt to that spot with the correct speed – if you can do this, your ball should break towards the hole on the perfect line and make that sweet rattle at the bottom of the cup.
10. Avoid changing your line while addressing your ball
After doing all the necessary preliminary preparation, the last thing you want to do is change your alignment last second while standing over your putt.
The temptation to do this can sometimes be very strong – even though you know you’ve lined yourself up correctly, when it comes to addressing the ball, suddenly things look a little different.
But, you need to fight these urges and trust that you have done the work and be confident in your read.
Read your putt, pick your apex point, align yourself correctly and make your stroke.
11. Don’t discount plumb bobbing
The art of plumb bobbing – which is when a golfer dangles their putter in front of their eyes to try and determine break – often gets a bad wrap from instructors, but I do believe there is a place for it.
While the jury is still out on its effectiveness, I’m a firm believer that if plumb bobbing gives you more confidence when reading greens then it can only be a positive.
If you want to know more about how to plumb bob, and why it can help your putting, check out another article I wrote on it here.
Bonus tip: Develop your own green reading book
This may seem excessive for golfers who enjoy the occasional social round with mates, but if you’re really serious about taking your game to the next level, then hear me out.
If you’re a club member, then you likely play the same course regularly – so, if that’s the case, why not jot down some notes in your very own ‘green reading book’ each time you play?
Every time you play a round, draw pictures of each green in your notepad and scribble down some notes on where the pin was located and how your putt behaved.
Over time, you’ll develop an extensive cheat sheet on where all the little undulations are on all 18 greens, which you can draw on every time you line up a putt thereafter.
Having a resource like this could save you a significant number of strokes per round, and see your handicap steadily drop.
The best way to improve your green reading is, without doubt, spending more time on the course.
But, speed and alignment are equally as important and can be honed from the comfort of your home with indoor putting mats.
Try incorporating some of the tips above into your putting routine and I’m confident you’ll see improvement in your game with the flat stick in hand.