Putting is the game within the game of golf, and even the best golfers find it difficult and exasperating at times. A 1-inch putt counts the same as a 300-yard drive.
A good putter knows how to read greens. The good putter won't always get it right but will be right more often than wrong.
There's no such thing as a green that's dead flat so learning how to read greens is an important skill. And, like everything else in golf, practice is important.
There are no absolutes when it comes to reading greens and the speed of your putt has to be factored into how you read each putt. If you want an example, go out to the practice green very early in the morning when there's some dew on the grass. From the same spot, you can hit five different putts on five different lines and they may all go in the hole!
You have to assess whether a putt is uphill or downhill first. If you're confused, walk the length of the putt and "listen to your feet" to determine the slope. Crouch behind the putt and you should be able to tell whether the putt will move left of right (or both). In general, if it looks straight, it will be straight, especially if you hit the putt firmly. If you're still confused, look further left and right at the mounding around the green. If there's a big mound to the right, the putt will likely break to the left.
A PGA or LPGA professional can help you with green reading steps but there's no substitution for practice. When you practice, go to different parts of the practice green and you'll soon start to get a hang for reading greens. Remember that how hard you plan to hit the putt is a big part of green reading.
If you play the same golf course a lot, there's a fact of golfing life that's important: the putts always break the same way so make some mental notes every time you play your home course.
Different Types of Grass and Different Types of Mountain
In the golf world, different climates require different types of grass. In the New York area, you'll play on bentgrass. In Florida, it's Bermudagrass. At Pebble Beach, it's Poa Annua. In Scotland, it's a mix of fine fescues and bent.
Each grass has its own characteristics, and these characteristics must be factored in when reading putts.
Bermudagrass is very grainy, and the grass will usually grow toward the sun. If a grass has a sheen to it, you're typically putting down grain. If the grass seems a bit greener, you're putting into the grain and it's going to be slow.
Poa Annua (pronounced Po-Anna) is not grainy but can get bumpy later in the day, and downhill putts can be very fast.
Bentgrass greens are rarely grainy so you don't have to worry about grain too much.
Links course greens in the United Kingdom and Ireland are often smooth just after being cut but, if the weather is warm, some grasses will grow faster and the speed can start to vary late in the day. These greens can comprise several different types of grass.
In the mountains, mountains and rivers will often affect grain and slope. If you're confused, think of how water would drain off the green. At the starter's hut or in the pro shop, ask how the mountains affect the greens. You might get the answer "everything breaks away from the mountain."
And on exposed courses on a windy day, you'll need to factor in the wind when you're putting.
If you're playing a golf course with a caddy, trust their sagacity when it comes to the local greens.
Don't Read the Green!
It's bad etiquette to stand directly in line with someone else when they are putting. However, it's perfectly OK to "move in" after they have putted to get the line. You can learn a lot from someone else's putt. Also, if you are chipping or putting, watch the ball as it goes by the hole to get a read.
You can be great at reading greens but it's not worth anything if you can't hit consistently good putts that roll straight. Buy a fitted putter and take lessons from a PGA or LPGA professional teacher who is not only a good teacher but a good putter.
Reading putts is much more art than science but the more you practice your putting and the better your stroke and speed control, the more artistic you'll become!