Explaining the Putting Green Terms 'Break' and 'Borrow'

Putter playing for the borrow on a putted golf ball
This golfer aimed out to the left of the hole on this putt to account for the putt's 'borrow'. Sam Edwards/OJO Images/Getty Images

"Break" can refer to the amount the path of the putted ball curves in response to the contours of a putting green, or to the amount the green itself curves or slopes.

"Borrow" refers to the distance right or left of a straight line to the hole that the golfer must start his putted ball to account for the slope of the green.

Hey, 'Borrow' and Break' Sound a Lot Alike!

You might have noticed that "borrow" sounds a lot like "break." And you're right! They are essentially the same. Golf isn't complicated enough, we had to invent multiple words for the same thing.

But there's a reason, in this case: "Borrow" is the traditional term in British golf; "break" is the traditional term in American golf. In the modern golf world, with tournaments on many continents broadcast around the world, both terms are used more interchangeably by all golfers.

A Difference in Usage Between Borrow and Break

One difference in usage between the terms: "Break" is more likely to be used as a verb than is "borrow." For example, you might say:

This putt is going to break two feet.

But if using borrow, that statement is more likely to be rendered thusly:

This putt requires two feet of borrow.

Sometimes, both terms might be used in the same sentence:

He needs to play two feet of borrow to account for the break.

Which is kind of redundant, but you hear it. That's because "break" has a second meaning in which it is applied to the putting green rather than to the putted ball. Saying "there's a lot of break in this green" means that the golfer will have to play a lot of borrow (starting the ball above or below the straight line to the cup) to account for the slope of the green.

So again: "borrow" is the deviation from a straight line to the cup that a golfer putts his ball in order to account for the slope of a green, and can be used interchangeably with that same meaning of "break."