How To Read Greens In Golf and (Sink More Putts)

Golfer Reading The Green

Putting is nothing like the full swing in golf. 

As ball striking legend Ben Hogan said, “There is no similarity between golf and putting; they are two different games, one is played in the air and the other on the ground.” 

Most golf historians can agree that if Ben Hogan had putted like he struck the golf ball, he probably would have had twice as many wins. Needless to say, putting requires its own strategy and is an entirely different aspect of the game. 

One of the most important parts of putting is learning how to read greens. If you can’t read greens, it’s nearly impossible to make putts or have confidence standing over the golf ball. 

Chances are you’ve asked yourself, “How do you read a putt?” 

In this article, we will help you understand the basics of green reading to give you confidence on the greens. 

How to Read Greens in Golf for Beginners

So, how do you read the green line in golf? 

Use these nine strategies to start finding confidence on the greens. 

1. Look at the Green Contours 

I still remember the first green reading lesson I got as a junior golfer. The local pro said, “If you threw a bucket of water on the green, where would it drain?” 

Understanding where water drains is the easiest way to initially read the contours of the green. 

Typically, most greens slope from back to front so water doesn’t collect on the putting surface.

In general, this should mean putts below the hole are uphill and putts above the hole are downhill. But there are plenty of greens with front to back slopes as well. 

Whenever possible, walk up to the green from the front as it will give your eyes a solid understanding of the slope. Dave Stockton elaborated in his book, Unconscious Putting. 

“Driving up to the side of the green in a cart and walking on from the side doesn’t give you as much of a chance to digest the subtle cues the green is giving you through your feet and eyes.” 

Also Read: Lag Putting Tips

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2. Read Greens Using Your Eyes 

Once you mark your golf ball and survey the surrounding area, get behind your ball for the initial read. It’s important to squat down so you can see the break of the putt vs. standing upright as it’s harder to read the green. 

While some players stand using the “Plumb Bob” method, I’d advise against it. This green reading style has lost popularity in recent years and isn’t the most effective strategy. 

When you’re reading the green in a squatted position, focus on the last few feet of the putt. This is when the putt will break the most as it’s losing speed.

Try to imagine where the ball will enter the hole based on the slope and break of the green. 

For example, if you see a right to left break, you want to imagine the ball going in on the right side or right-center of the cup. The opposite is true for left to right putts.

Other players like to imagine a line from the ball to the hole like what you see when watching the PGA Tour. 

Also Read: 15 Putting Tips To transform Your Short Game

Trust Your Instincts (especially on long putts)

Your first instinct is almost always right in the game of golf. 

If you walk up to an approach shot and it feels like a 9-iron, it’s probably a 9-iron shot. If you read a putt and instantly see right to left break, it probably breaks in that direction. 

After playing golf for 20+ years my guess is that your first instinct is right 90% of the time.

Only Read From Behind Hole

For most golfers I would recommend only reading the putt from behind the ball. If you read a putt from behind and then read the putt from behind the hole, you might see a different line and it’s easy to get confused. 

Here’s my putting rule… if I can’t determine the break from behind the ball, then I’ll read from behind the hole. Otherwise, I trust my eyes and instinct on the break of the putt from behind the ball only.

Not only will this cause less doubt and confusion but also speed up the pace of play too. 

3. How To Read greens With Your Feet 

Your eyes might deceive you at times on the green but your feet are almost always right. On longer putts I like to walk the length of the putt to see if it’s uphill, flat, or downhill. But you can also straddle your putt to learn from your feet on shorter putts too. 

As this Titleist article said, “Straddle the line of your putt, and focus on how your weight is distributed. If one foot feels like it has more weight on it than the other, that foot is on the downhill side of the putt and the putt will break in that direction. If you feel like your weight is evenly distributed between your two feet, you’re probably looking at a straight putt.”

Watch the below YouTube video from Titleist to learn more about reading greens with your feet. 

4. Watch Your Competitors

Another great green reading technique is to watch what putts do as your fellow players are on the green. This is even more important if they’re on a similar line to the hole. But even if they’re a different line, you can still notate speed and break of the putt.

Phil Mickelson did this in route to his first major win at Augusta National in 2004. He had to make a putt on the 18th green to secure the victory and slip on the green jacket. His playing partner, Chris DiMarco, had a very similar putt. As soon as Chris hit the putt, Phil immediately watched how his ball broke. 

Learn from your competitors on the green! 

5. Adjust Break for Slope

It’s important to adjust your read based on the slope of the putt. For example, with uphill putts I like to read slightly less break because I’ll need more speed to putt up the hill. 

Remember, the harder you hit a putt, the less it will break! 

For uphill putts, I try to hit them slightly harder with less break. This adjustment is for the slope and you typically won’t have a long comeback putt if you do miss uphill putts. 

For downhill putts I add more break as I want the putt to die into the hole. When you find yourself with a tricky downhill putt, always add more break so you don’t hit it too hard and leave yourself a long putt coming back. 

With flat putts, I try to pace them so they pour into the hole.

Golfer Reading the Green

6. Play Short Putts Pretty Straight 

When it comes to short putts, especially inside five feet, I think it’s important to not give the hole away. Meaning, don’t aim outside the hole unless there is a ton of break. By playing the break of the putt inside the hole, you give yourself a better chance to make the most important putts. 

Tiger Woods is a great example of this (and one of the best putters of all time). He hits short putts with more speed than most players which allows him to take the break out of the putt. This makes it easier to putt with confidence and conversely, make more putts. 

Related: Best Short Game Tips 

7. Don’t Forget Local Playing Conditions 

Some golf courses seem to defy your eyes and break the opposite of what you might think. These local rules are something to be aware of, especially when playing mountain courses.

When checking in at the pro shop, make sure to ask about local rules. They might say something like “Everything breaks toward the valley” or some other piece of local knowledge. Keep this in the back of your mind throughout the day, especially if you can’t figure out the break of a putt. 

Factor in Weather

Another aspect to green reading is the weather and time of day you play. In general, greens are slower earlier in the day when they are wet and typically faster in the afternoon as they dry out. 

While other courses with different types of grass the opposite might be true; the greens might be faster in the morning and slower in the afternoon. This tends to happen on poa annua greens. 

Also, if it’s raining and wet, the greens will be slower. But if it’s dry and windy, the greens will lose moisture and tend to speed up. 

Reading Grain

Grain is another aspect of green reading but doesn’t apply to all golf courses. Grain is something to think about when it comes to playing on Bermuda greens but not on bent grass greens. 

As Tiger Woods said in his book, How I Play Golf, “One side will be shaggier than the other; a ball moving in the direction of the shaggy side will travel faster than one rolling against it. Another general rule: Grass grows toward the setting sun.” 

If a putt looks “shiny” compared to the rest of the green, it means it’s down grain. A downhill, down grain putt is the fastest type of putt you can face. While an uphill, into the grain putt is the slowest. 

Don’t worry too much about grain until you start shooting in the low 80s. 

Related: How to Break 80 

8. Buy a Green Reading Book 

Also, don’t forget there are professional tools – known as green reading books – that will help you learn more about the greens. Buy one in the pro shop or online for a little extra help. It’s like having a caddy with you at all times. 

9. Always Pick a Read 

The final piece of green reading advice is to make sure you always pick a read. 

Meaning, don’t think you will “figure it out” as you’re standing over the golf ball. This leads to doubt, indecision, and most of the time a poorly committed putt.

Instead, commit to a line, before approaching the golf ball. 

Because even if you read the putt wrong, you will make a more confident stroke which gives it a chance of going in. Compared to an uncommitted putt that tends to tend up short of the hole.

Top Questions on Green Reading 

Do you have more questions about finding the right line for your putts? If so, keep reading to learn more green reading techniques.

How do you read a green for beginners? 

Start by surveying the green contours with your eyes. 

Then, mark your golf ball and read the putt from behind the golf ball. Commit to a speed for the putt once you figure out the slope and direction of the putt. Typically, it’s a good idea to trust your first instinct! 

If you aren’t sure of the pace or path of the putt, you can walk the length of the putt too. Or, read the putt from behind the hole for a different angle.

How do you read a putt with your fingers? 

Reading a putt with your fingers is a specific putting system known as AimPoint. This unique green reading system was created by Mark Sweeney and used by professional and amateur golfers around the world. 

But if you’re a beginner, I’d suggest conventional techniques as this is more complex and still questioned by a lot of instructors. Check out their website to learn more about this green reading system. 

How do you read uphill and downhill putts? 

The easiest way to determine if a putt is uphill or downhill is with your feet. Walk the length of the putt from the ball to the hole and feel in your feet if you’re walking up or downhill. 

Wrapping Up

Green reading is half the battle in becoming a consistent and clutch putter. After reading these tips, make sure you always identify the slope and break of the putt. Give your mind a clear image of how you think the putt will break. 

For example, I like to say in my mind, “This putt is about 8 feet, uphill, and breaks right to left.” This gives my mind a clear vision of the break and allows me to make a more confident stroke. 

Always pick a line so you can roll the putt with confidence. 

Don’t forget, your first instinct is almost always the right one. Plus, make sure you have the best putter for your stroke. 

Trust your gut for better golf! 

What’s your best green reading tip for new golfers?

Let us know in the comments below. 

Picture of Michael Leonard

Michael Leonard

Michael Leonard is a full-time writer, author, creator of Wicked Smart Golf and +1 handicap amateur golfer. He left his corporate career in 2017 to pursue entrepreneurship and professional golf; since then, he’s competed in 160+ tournament days and went to Q-school in 2019.

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