Quick Tips for Reading Greens

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Key Points

Woman lining up a putt
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(Editor's Note: The following tips for reading greens are from Harold Swash, one of the top putting instructors in the world and founder of Harold Swash Putting Schools of Excellence. Philip Kenyon, an instructor at Swash's schools, is the fellow in the photos that appear on succeeding pages. And the text and images appear courtesy of Pocketbooks Putting-Fundamentals, one of a series of pocket lessons from Swash and Kenyon. See www.dizzyheights.com for more info about Pocketbooks.)

The ability to read the correct line and speed of a putt is an important skill to develop. To help develop such a skill, consider the following points.


Controlling the speed of your putt is vitally important.

The quicker the ball is rolling, the less the ball will break.

The optimum pace to hit a putt is one that would take the ball 15 inches to 17 inches past the hole. This speed ensures that the ball holds its line.

True Down Slope Direction (TDSD)

The momentum of the stroke makes the ball roll along a straight line initially (we have stated the relationship between speed and break).

However, as the ball gets closer to the hole the ball begins to lose its speed. As it loses its speed the ball will start to look for and go down the true downslope of the green as gravity starts to take over.

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Assessing Your Putt

Reading Greens
Photo © DizzyHeights.com; reprinted with permission from Pocketshots Putting Fundamentals

Target Point

Every putt is therefore effectively a straight putt, it all depends on how hard you hit it as to whether it takes any break.

With your pace of putt in mind, pick the break you envisage the putt will take. Then pick your target out as a straight line and hit the ball at the right speed so that it takes the break.

When you approach the green it is important therefore to look at the contours and assess the slopes and lie of the land.

Firstly assess whether the put is uphill, downhill or across any slope.

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Uphill or Downhill

Reading Greens
Photo © DizzyHeights.com; reprinted with permission from Pocketshots Putting Fundamentals

Downhill Putts

With less momentum from the strike on a downhill putt, gravity will act upon the ball sooner on its run towards the hole and force the ball down the direction of the true downslope.

On downhill putts, therefore, we need to allow for more break.

Remember: less speed equals more break.

Uphill Putts

Uphill putts are much easier than downhill putts because they have less break due to the momentum of the strike required to hit the ball up the hill.

Remember: more speed equals less break.

The ball will take any break when it starts to "die" (loses speed), this is when gravity starts to takes over and the ball will follow the true downslope.

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Side Slopes

Reading Greens
Photo © DizzyHeights.com; reprinted with permission from Pocketshots Putting Fundamentals

Side Slope Putts

It is important to note that putts hit across any side slope are uphill on the first part of the putt and then downhill on the second part of the putt.

Once you have assessed whether the put is uphill or downhill (to help you determine the pace of the putt and initial starting line) then focus on the area around the hole where the ball will die and gain an understanding of the direction of the true downslope, as this is where the slope will have the greatest influence on your putt.

By building up a picture of the contours you will build up a picture of the line and pace you will need to hit the ball on for it to go in the hole.

Practice reading putts in the same way you practice your mechanics. This will help you learn to assess the effects different slopes and speeds have on your putts. Building up such experience will help you make more decisive and accurate reads out on the course.

About the Instructor

These tips, which appear courtesy of Pocketbooks "Putting Fundamentals," are from putting guru Harold Swash. Swash, the founder of Harold Swash Putting Schools of Excellence, is one of the top golf instructors in Europe, having coached, among others, Padraig Harrington, David Howell, Nick Faldo and Darren Clarke. He is also the inventor of Yes Golf's C-Groove putter.