(By Peter Brown, Level 2 AimPoint Instructor)
How do you read greens?
Do you have a specific methodology that you follow? Is that methodology sound, or do you find your putting relies a lot on hit and hope? Are your reads shaky? Don’t worry. You are not alone.
One of the reasons that golfers struggle so much on the green is that there is a whole bunch of bad information out there about how a putt will behave on the green.
Regrettably, the myths of green reading are many.
This list was compiled recently with the help of several top instructors (PGA and LPGA), a former PGA tour player, a golf course architect, and college coaches. Each responded with their favorite myth or misconception. Each was then ranked in order of mentions.
You may have seen or heard of these methods but, how valid are they?
10. Just feel it in
I hear all the time that, "I'm a feel putter." What does that really mean? Do you just stare at the hole until a Zen-like state of clarity shows you the way? Are you hallucinating the green line and disconnecting from your body as you swing the club?
Instructors felt that many feel putters actually manipulate the putter in order to get the ball on their intended line. Look at it this way, if you are a true feel putter, why do you spend all that time on the practice green grooving the perfect stroke? I think that saying that you are a “feel putter” actually means that you have no real system for putting and that each putt is a guess about line and speed.
Some putts do go in, validating your feel. When a putt doesn’t go in, you just felt it wrong, as opposed to hitting it on a poor line with awful pace.
9. Plumb bob
Just type it in to YouTube and hundreds of different variations come up. It seems that the bottom line is that dangling your putter only gives you a small amount of info and potentially misses a lot more than it provides. Think about the simple physics of this technique. First, is your putter really balanced to start with? Will the unbalanced weight of the putter head take all of your reads left?
Even if your putter is perfectly balanced, your “bob” is only potentially accurate for break on the spot you are standing on. Once the ball leaves that spot, the how can the read pick up the breaks between you and the hole? Maybe you need multiple “bobs” along the path, and some calculus to engineer the reads all together.
8. Seeing the putt from all sides
Golfers spend lots of time walking around the hole looking for a breakpoint the ball may never cross. Imagine driving through Brooklyn, just to figure out the driving directions through Manhattan.
Did your buddy just put out a cigar on the other side of the green? Do you need to move that ash before you make your read?
Your ball is only going to roll over part of the green on it’s way to the hole. You don’t need to look at the putt from every angle. Above, below, and from a side? I’m actually OK with these looks, but you really don’t need more. I can only imagine the time it takes to read from all directions. Your buddies will be putting you on the clock, perhaps while humming the Final Jeopardy music as well.
7. Born with "IT"
Could it really be that the ability to read the greens was given to you at birth and can't be learned?
This means that most of us can't read putts as well as those born with the gift; we missed out on the green reading gene. Maybe we will be more genetically suited to bowling or darts. According to several studies including the book “The Talent Code” any skill can be learned if practiced effectively.
This myth sounds to me like it originated with a crappy putter who was making excuses. “I don’t putt as well as she does, but I wasn’t born with ‘it’ like she was.”
6. Last 5 feet of the putt is by far the most important.
Like a lot of these myths, this one is based on sound physics...coupled with insanity. The ball will break more as it nears the cup and slows, but the last time I checked, my ball has to roll over the entire distance of the putt to make it to the hole. It’s not like it hovers, then lands at the five foot point.
What about this scenario? You have a twenty-foot putt with two bowls between you and the hole. How can reading only the last five feet possibly be a good plan? Do you forget about the break at fifteen feet and the break at ten feet? If you send that ball off in the wrong direction on the first break, how will it possibly be on line at five feet? You need to read the whole putt.
Those who rely heavily on grain for reads are thinking that the direction of the grass impacts putt direction more than gravity. Top agronomists agree that for the most part grass grows with direction of slope, not with the setting sun. So when putting on surfaces, yes grain will affect speed, but not direction. If you putt at the wrong speed, that can impact the break the ball takes, but the reality is you got the pace wrong.
Up grain, or down grain really is another way to say up hill or down hill. It’s gravity, not grass.
4. Bodies of water
Do lakes, creeks, and oceans cause ball to break towards them? Maybe, but only if the body of water is actually downhill from your ball’s position.
Our golf course architect laughed at this one and his statement was "we design greens to move water off the surface of the green, but not always in the direction of the closest body of water." He went on to state that they sometimes adjust the putting surface away from a close by body because it may be better for play. Our balls do not know where water is, although they always do seem to find it when we play.
3. Apex putting
Apex is reading the putt by aiming at the highest point the ball will roll across. If we use apex it will always be too low or hit too hard. Our former PGA tour player commented that if we hit it on this line we forget about the initial break. Forgetting about any break that the ball will roll across does not seem like a formula for accuracy.
As I said before, your ball must roll across all of the grass to reach the hole, unless, of course, you chip it while on the green, but only Tiger can get away with that.
2. Spider Man or Yoga reading
Does it make sense to read a putt from ball height? We think that seeing is believing, but we know our eyes can also fool us. Go Google Optical Illusion. We know from experience that how we look at a putt changes how we see the putt. That’s a simple way of saying that the slope looks different from different perspectives.
Degree of perceived break changes as the distance from our eye changes. What this means is that what you see at a belly-low angle is not what you are going to see when you stand up again. If you putt from Spiderman position, this read may actually work for you. However, if you stand to putt, you should probably also stand to read. Plus, most golfers are too old, and too stiff for 30-40 Camilo-esque reads per round?
1. Landmark Pull
The Pacific Ocean, Molokai, Indio, Phoenix, or Lake Merced are all interesting golf course landmarks, but THEY DON’T PULL THE BALL TOWARD THEM!
Some of these landmarks may be in the direction of break but most times it's just a coincidence. There might be an overall direction toward these landmarks in the course design, but designers again are trying to move water off greens, not trying to flood landmarks. I suppose that if you are totally lost on a read, remembering that on the Plantation Course at Kapalua, all putts break toward Molokai at least gives you something to help your confidence.
Yes, all putts there do break toward Molokai, except for the ones that don’t.
So what can you do to read putts correctly?
First of all, stop listening to the myths. Just because someone says something on TV, it doesn’t make it true. Some of the voices that we hear on TV each week, while entertaining, propagate these myths to unsuspecting golfers. They don’t do it on purpose. The commentators are just passing along what they have heard over the years. If everyone says something, that makes it true, right?
For the full golf swing, I think that we all agree that the flight of a golf ball is all based upon the physics of the swing and the geometries of impact. Though we will claim that trees are magnetic, the reason that your ball went screaming into the pines was 100% math and 0% myth.
When you putt, you are on the same planet that you played your other shots on, and thus that putt must obey the same physical laws. Don’t worry though, at its core, the physics are simple. Just remember this simple rule: balls roll down hills, not up them.
But how will you know how far they will roll and break? You need a putting system based upon solid science and not hearsay/folklore. This is where AimPoint comes in. During a class the instructor will teach you how to gauge break, based upon the speed of the green and the slope of the putt. Do you need to know calculus? Nope, the math is simple and fast even though the reads are based upon sound science and not a bunch of local legends.
You actually probably already know about AimPoint, even if you are not familiar with the name. Have you watched golf on TV? Did you see the green line for putt direction? That was AimPoint. AimPoint is the source of the technology that enabled The Golf Channel to draw the green (or blue) line. Determining the line took gravity and friction into account, not those myths we talked about earlier. Personally, I enjoyed watching the balls follow the line into the cup, or lose the line and miss.
The great thing about the current AimPoint System is that it is very easy to learn. There is even a new AimPoint Express Read that is extremely simple to learn, and yet also extremely effective on the course. Don’t worry that AimPoint is too complicated. How complicated is your reading system if you need to take all of those ten misconceptions into account with each read?
If you want a better way to read greens and ignore the myths from above, visit your local Aimpoint golf instructor. The AimPoint Instructor will help you #makeeverything or at least give you more putting confidence, knowing that your read is based upon physics, and not your buddy’s off-hand comment.
It’s all about the science baby!
As an avid golfer looking to improve his game, Peter took an AimPoint clinic and it changed his whole outlook on green reading. Peter’s background in science allowed him to see the irrefutable physics behind the AimPoint system. Peter was so impressed by the system that he trained to become a Certified AimPoint Instructor and worked with AimPoint Inventor Mark Sweeney to revise and refine the green reading system that is taught today.
Since becoming an instructor Peter has worked with several tom amateurs, average Joes, and PGA Tour hopefuls including Issac Sanchez, winner of Big Break NFL, and Collegiate All-American, John Catlin.