How to Read Greens in Golf

When you hear a golfer say reading greens requires patience and experience, they are telling the truth.

While the speed of a putt determines how much influence a break will have as it rolls, correctly reading putting surfaces can provide a great advantage to the amateur hoping to drain more putts.

Simply put, half the battle for amateurs is confidently reading the green. Players struggling with their putting should develop a putting routine where quickly looking at the break of the green becomes the first item on their checklist.

In this guide on how to read greens in golf, we’re going to provide 5 tips to help you immediately see the shape and roll of the greens, including tidbits from professional golfers.

Understanding the Importance of Arc

Rarely does a golf ball roll straight on a green. Sure you might see a double breaker from time to time, but primarily, the golf ball rolls in an arc to the cup due to slope.

Most players that are successful putters read greens based on feel and experience so for them, green reading becomes second nature over time. They innately understand how the golf ball rolls on the greens on most strikes because of their understanding of arc.

When you read greens, a great way to determine the necessary arc needed on a putt is to get on the low side of the slope. Most players walk on the opposite side of the slope, stopping in the middle of the putt to look back at the possible break.

Walk the Putting Line Like Tiger Woods

One of Tiger Woods‘ best tips is to walk alongside the target line to break down the second half of the putt when green reading. Woods excels at green reading because he doesn’t get overwhelmed on most putts like other golfers.

After he stands at the midway point and looks over the second half of the putt, Woods gets behind the ball, crouches and looks at the grain of the grass.

In this position, Woods doesn’t plumb bob like some pros. Plumb bobbing is the art of crouching behind the marker, holding the putter in the air along the target line and determining break based on how the putter hangs.

In recent years, the plumb bob has grown out of favor, but some amateurs swear by plumb bobbing when they read greens.

Instead, Woods utilizes his experience to make a guess on how severe the slope is for the upcoming putt.

Then at address, he makes two practice strokes, but on the second stroke, he’s looking a couple of feet in front of the putter to find that spot he wants to hit. Then, Tiger makes his stroke.

Watching Tiger work through his routine, examining every inch of the putt, and then confidently stroking the putt is what all amateurs should hope to accomplish when they read greens at their local club.

Pro Tip: Drill

In this drill, we will develop a strategy to hit putts on the correct arc. When we read greens, we need to see the path of the golf ball in our minds to anticipate what the putt needs before we make the stroke.

First, place a ball marker on the green from where you will practice the putt. We prefer to strike putts around 20 feet with this drill to maximize the experience.

After you read the green, take two tees and go to the midpoint of the putt. Place the two tees about two to three ball widths apart, leaving a clean path for your putt.

Remember, you aren’t putting the golf ball first and determining the break. You are using your first instinct to anticipate the necessary putting line and placing the tees there.

After your first putt, if you don’t drain the putt, adjust the tees. Take the time to examine each effort, then make further adjustments to better determine your stroke’s target line.

Although you might need to change the tees several times before sinking the putt at the beginning, as you progress in reading greens, you’ll quickly just need one to two attempts before you can read greens like a pro.

Getting Behind the Hole Provides Perspective

Most amateurs just mimic what they see professionals do on Sunday when it comes to reading greens. But a strong strategy for seeing how most balls will finish around the hole comes from taking a different perspective when reading the putting surface.

Standing behind the hole lets you see how the putt will break over the last several feet.

Although you might not get as close as you’d like to the cup due to possibly standing in someone’s line, reading the grain next to the hole can be advantageous, especially on long putts with two different slopes, otherwise known as a “double breaker.”

While you might not need the view from behind the hole on short putts, pay attention to the side of the hole on these occasions. If the grass appears shaggy on one side of the cup, that’s the direction of the grain, so you might want to make a slight adjustment.

Trust the Initial Read

One of the biggest mistakes that amateurs make on the putting surface is struggling with indecision, forcing themselves to make multiple reads rather than trusting in their initial green reading process.

For most weekend warriors, looking for the perfect line for a putt becomes the obstacle that creates the indecision they’re hoping to avoid.

Professional golfers would rather have the correct speed than the right line, especially on slightly uphill putts because the last few feet are so important to whether or not the putt drops in the cup.

How a putt breaks does contain an element of luck because golfers can’t account for the natural terrain of every inch of the greens, so rolling the ball with the right speed and direction certainly gives players the best chance of making the putt.

Avoiding Three Putts Starts When You Read Greens Correctly

Before you make your first putt on the green, you need to visualize and make an assessment of your chances of sinking the putt.

If you are 30 feet away from the hole, your chances are relatively slim, so you need to get into the mode of creating the right speed and direction to avoid a tricky second putt.

A great putter hopes to get the second putt within two feet of the hole, making the next putt a relatively high percentage chance.

Simply put, you need to make sure you miss the cup close so you leave a shorter putt to save par.

Determining the right pace comes from taking the time to practice reading greens. To become a better putter, taking the time to learn the differences in the grass and how they affect green reading remains incredibly important.

How to Read Greens in Golf FAQs

How do you read a green grain in golf?

Reading the grain of the greens takes time to understand for inexperienced golfers. “Grain” essentially means which way the blades of grass are growing on the green.

Knowing if you are hitting against or with the grain can help you determine pace more consistently.

An excellent tip for reading grain involves knowing where West is on the course. Since the grass will grow toward the sun, the grain will lean to the West on flat surfaces.

However, if the green has a significant slope, the grass will grow in the direction of the slope due to how the water drains from the surface.

While bent grass greens offer the truest roll for putting, most golf courses utilize Bermuda greens where the grass does grow in specific directions affecting speed and break.

Bermuda grass also often plays slower than other grass types, so golfers need more speed toward the hole on these greens.

How do you read the greens on a scorecard?

While a scorecard can provide the shape of the green, it remains tough to read a green from a piece of paper, especially when playing a golf course for the first time.

For frequent players, taking a small notebook and detailing the slope of each green can offer a considerable advantage by helping you place your entry shots in favorable locations.

Since golfers are looking to avoid three putts, otherwise known as the “Three Jack,” landing the ball in areas where the break isn’t as severe or the ball offers an uphill roll where it’s easier to find the right speed.

Avoiding the areas on the green where you could potentially experience a “bad miss,” where the putt runs far past the hole, continues to be an essential part of posting lower scores.

That said, having a GPS device with a color screen or GPS watch that shows the contours of the green in ways that a scorecard cannot also offers a significant advantage when looking to read greens before hitting your entry shot.