Reading Greens: The Basics of Picking Pace and Putting Line

Viktor Hovland of Norway reads the eighth green during the third round of the Wyndham Championship at Sedgefield Country Club on August 03, 2019 in Greensboro, North Carolina.

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

Key Points

Woman lining up a putt
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  1. Speed: Controlling the speed of your putt is vitally important.
  2. The quicker the ball is rolling, the less the ball will break: The optimum pace to hit a putt is one that will take the ball 15 inches to 17 inches past the hole. This speed ensures that the ball holds its line.
  3. 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 down slope of the green as gravity begins to take over.

Assessing Your Putt and Picking Target Line

Brooke Henderson reads a putt with her caddie, her sister Brittany.

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Based on the key points, we can say that every putt is effectively a straight putt: It 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 to look at the contours and assess the slopes and lie of the land. Firstly, assess whether the putt is uphill, downhill or across any slope.

Uphill or Downhill

Fans watch as Jack Wagner warms up on the putting green before a practice round at Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course.

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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 down slope. 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 lose speed. This is when gravity starts to takes over and the ball will follow the true down slope.

Putts on Side Slopes

Pro golfer Miguel Angel Jimenez putts across a side slope.

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

Once you have assessed whether the putt is uphill or downhill (to help you determine the pace and initial starting line), then focus on the area around the hole where the ball will die to gain an understanding of the direction of the true down slope. That's 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 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 on the greens.

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.