A perfect putting stroke won’t help if you don’t know how to read greens. You can’t hit the bullseye if you don’t know where to aim.
Want to save more strokes on the greens? Yes, you still need to practice your putting, but you also need to work on understanding the break.
The good news is that anyone can learn how to read greens. It could be the difference in shooting in the 90s or breaking 80.
Let’s get started!
What Does It Mean To Read Greens?
Golf terminology can be tricky. Before we discuss how to read greens, let’s define it.
Reading greens is the process you follow before you hit your putt to determine where to aim.
To read the green correctly, you need to assess the break (the direction it will curve), the slope (uphill or downhill), and potentially, the grain of the grass.
Not all putting surfaces have grain. Bermuda grass greens are most likely to have grain. More on this below.
Once you read your putt, you are reading to roll it in the hole.
How To Read Greens: 7 Step Process to Get the Break Right Every Time
#1: How To Read Greens – Don’t Take Forever
It is important to read your putt before stroking the ball, but be mindful of how long your process takes.
The pace of play is the number one reason golfers get frustrated with the game and stop playing. As you learn how to read greens, make sure you aren’t part of the problem.
We recommend you keep your green reading process to 15-20 seconds in length. There are a couple of ways to make it even shorter.
First, don’t wait for your turn to start your process. Start assessing your putt while others in your group are putting.
Second, move with a purpose. Learn to quickly digest the information you need to pick where you want to aim your putt.
You don’t want to be known as the slow player, so learn how to read greens without holding up your group and the groups behind you.
#2: How to Read Greens – Assess The Slope
Before you worry about the direction the putt will curve, assess the slope of the putt. Is it uphill, downhill, or a bit of both?
To make a putt you must combine the correct line with the correct speed. Getting the correct speed is all about understanding the slope.
You can start this process as you approach the green. Look for the high parts of the green complex and identify major slopes that are part of the green.
Once you reach your ball, make two quick assessments. Type of slope (uphill or downhill) and severity of the slope.
You now have an idea of the speed, so it is time to figure out the direction the putt is going to curve.
#3: How To Read Greens – Walk Around Your Putt
Learning how to read greens is all about getting a feel for different putts and picking up on small nuances in the green.
You can quickly get a lot of information by simply walking around your putt. Start from your ball and walk in a circle that goes slightly past the hole.
You should have several goals during your stroll.
- Confirm Slope – you have assessed the slope in step #2, but your “walk-around” will help you confirm your initial assessment.
- Feel It In Your Feet – as you walk, pay attention to your feet. You can often feel small contours in the green that you may miss with your eyes.
- See All The Angles – by getting a 360-degree view of your putt you will notice different things about the green. You may see small ridges that you would miss if you only looked at the putt from behind your ball.
As per step #1, make sure your walk is brisk, but focus on details. The smallest ridge in the green could be the difference between a made putt and a lip out.
#4: How To Read Greens – Check For Grain
Slope and undulation must be read to understand all putts, but some greens include a 3rd component: Grain.
The simple definition of grain in golf is the direction in which the grass you’re playing grows.
Greens are made from different types of grass. Some have grain that will impact how your putt breaks. You need to understand if you need to factor this into your reading process.
When you arrive at the golf course you need to determine the type of grass on the greens. The most common are Bermuda and Bent. If you can’t tell, ask the Pro Shop.
Bermuda greens will typically have grain, while Bent greens do not have enough to impact your putts.
Learning how to read greens made with Bermuda grass requires this extra step. You need to consider the grain.
Grain can impact the speed of your putt and how much it breaks. The ball will roll quicker and break more with the grain.
If you ask 10 golfers how to read grain, you might get 10 different answers, but the most common answer is to look at the hole.
One side of the hole will look beaten up (or slightly rougher). This worn-down grass is the direction it is growing. The grain is headed that way.
The other thing to keep in mind is the color of the green. From where you are standing does it look shiny or darker? Shiny indicates you are putting down grain.
Learning to factor in grain is the most challenging part of figuring out how to read greens.
#5: How To Read Greens – Long Putts, More Focus On 2nd Half
When you are faced with a long putt (30+ feet) they may have more than one break. They could be both uphill and downhill or they could break both directions.
For speed, determine the severity of the slopes. Is the uphill or the downhill portion more severe?
If it is slightly uphill at the beginning and severely downhill at the end, then the over putt is downhill. In this case, be careful with your speed.
Learning how to read greens when your putt breaks in both directions is a little more interesting.
Pro Tip: when faced with a “double-breaker” pay more attention to the 2nd half of your putt.
The reason is simple. As your ball is approaching the hole (2nd half of your putt) it will be moving slower. A slower-moving golf ball will take the break more.
#6: How To Read Greens – Pick A Spot
When you reach this step in your process you should have all of the information you need. It is time to pick a spot where you hope to start your golf ball.
Related article: 5 Tips To Use AimPoint Putting To Drop More Putts!
Golfers have terminology for describing where they plan to aim.
If you say “left edge” it means you think the putt is going to break slightly to the right. It means the player is trying to aim at the left edge of the hole.
If you hear someone say “two cups to the right” this means they think it is going to break ~8 inches to the left. They are going to aim two cups (the width of 2 golf holes) to the right.
Learning how to read greens is all about this moment. Picking the correct spot to start your putt.
#7: How To Read Greens – Commit To Your Line
You have done all of the hard work. Now it is time to roll the rock.
It is critical to make a committed and confident putting stroke. Never second-guess your read.
A poor putting stroke will ruin the perfect read. Trust your process and get the ball started on the spot you picked.
You never want indecision in your short game. Have faith that you have learned how to read greens and you will start to see more putts fall!