Read All About It
Even the most beautifully struck putt won't fall into the hole if it doesn't start out with the correct line.
With that inescapable fact in mind, we have assembled an ace team across a range of golf disciplines to help you better read the greens. Here, their best tips.
KNOW YOUR GRASSES
Expert: Darin Bevard, agronomist
Credentials: A 19-year USGA veteran, Bevard is currently its director of championship agronomy.
"Golf fans hear a lot on TV about grain and its impact on putting, but in general I don't think grain - the direction that grass grows - has near as big an impact as we're led to believe. In the Northern tier of the U.S., we generally see cool-season grasses such as bent grass and poa annua greens, sometimes in combination. With modern turf management, including all the brushing and grooming that's done to keep the grass standing up straight and cutting heights around one-tenth of an inch, there's not much grain to influence the roll of a golf ball. It's much more about slope and gravity than grain, so don't overthink - or blame - the grass' influence when you're playing up North.
"It's a bit of a different story with Bermuda grass, which is used in Southern climates. Bermuda grass leaves are stiffer than their cool-season counterparts and have a greater impact on ball roll. Look for the visual indicators on Bermuda grass greens that alert you to the direction of grain. If the grass looks dark green, that's the underside of the leaf, and you are putting into the grain. This not only affects speed, but balls take more break when slowing down. If it appears light green, that's the top of the leaf, and you are putting with the grain, which makes the putt effectively faster and can diminish the break. Bermuda grass grain can influence ball roll beyond what you would expect based on the slope, so the ability to recognize the direction of the grain is very important when putting on Bermuda grass greens."
START BEHIND THE HOLE
Expert: James Sieckmann, instructor
Credentials: Sieckmann is an eight-time Nebraska PGA Section Teacher of the Year and is the short-game coach to 11 PGA, LPGA, and Champions Tour pros, including Ben Crane, Charley Hoffman, and Cameron Tringale.
"If you're behind the ball reading a 25-foot putt, you might be 30 or 35 feet from the hole trying to see a slight nuance in slope. So the first step in a good green-reading process is to start your read from behind the hole instead of behind the ball, and check what's going to happen with the roll of the ball as it nears the hole. You want to see the late break first because slope has the biggest influence when the ball slows down.
"One great way to see the break more clearly is to visualize a coin placed one foot to the left of your intended line and another coin one foot to the right of it, near the hole. Continue to do that every few feet or so along your intended line. Once behind the ball, keep looking back and forth between each set of coins, all the way down your entire line. These horizontal eye scans make it very easy to see the break versus the more common vertical eye scans that most players use, looking from their ball to the hole and back again."
GET THE BIG PICTURE
Expert: Bruce Charlton, golf course architect
Credentials: A past president of the American Society of Golf Course Architects, Charlton is the president and chief design officer for Robert Trent Jones II Golf Course Architects, the firm that built 2015 U.S. Open venue Chambers Bay in University Place, Wash.
"Too many players zero in too quickly just on the space between their ball and the hole, instead of the total slope conditions on and - many times - even around the green. Unless you hit all your approach shots to 3 feet, you need a big-picture view of the green and the flow of the land at the perimeter. I always tell people to look at the entrance to the green as being 6 o'clock, straight to the back of it is 12 o'clock, right is 3 o'clock, and left is 9 o'clock. Look at the natural landforms at the green edge at each point of the clock and determine the highest and lowest points. In general, the ball will go from the high to the low.
"Try imagining that you're a drop of water falling to the green surface - when you land, which way are you going to go, especially as it relates to the area around the hole? During the next rainstorm with no lightning or thunder, put on your rain suit and spend a couple of hours checking out each green to see how water runs on it. The ball will follow the same path as the water. This will help you big time, I promise."