After the August e-tip I received quite a few questions about “How to Read Greens?”

Thought I’d write this practice tip on some ways to learn how to read greens and some helpful hints/drills that will help you read greens better.

Reading greens is not difficult if you have learned through a “trial and error/ trial and succeed” type process. Let me explain with a few examples I have witnessed and put into my teachings from some of the best putters in the world.

First – You need to test your putting. Remember – good putters have the following – 1. Square face at impact, 2. A good putting path, and 3. Good speed.

To test these, it is pretty simple –

  1. Checking Putter Face Alignment – Place a yardstick on the ground (flat ground). Put a golf ball at the end and on top of the yardstick (for example on the one inch mark). Set up to the ball and putt down the yardstick. You should have no problem keeping the ball on the yardstick. If you have a problem, you need to work on your putter face squareness at impact.
  2. Good Putting Path – Place two tees in the green about 10 feet from the hole. The tees should be apart the distance of your width of your putter plus 1/4 inch. In other words, you are making a “gate” to putt through. Now place a ball in the middle and just in front of the tees. Putt toward the hole. You should not hit the tees. If you do, you need to work on your path.
  3. Good Speed – This is the most important factor to reading greens. Take 10 golf balls – go 20 to 30 feet from a hole. Putt toward the hole. At least 7 of 10 golf balls should be made or should come to rest within 12 inches PAST the hole. If you cannot get these results, you need to check the following – Are you hitting the putt in the middle of the putter face? This is very easy to check – place a piece of masking tape on the face of the putter or pour some babypowder on the face of your putter. Putt a few golf balls. Check the marks on the face of your putter – they should be on the sweet spot of the putter face (typically about 1 quarter size circle in the middle of the putter). If not, you need to check your putting fundamentals and repair them to get a majority of your putts to hit the sweet spot of the putter. Remember – missing the sweet spot by as little as 1/4 inch can make a putt come up 10 feet short from 30 feet on average speed greens….

If you are having issues with any of these putting fundamentals – before you start to work on reading greens, you need to fix your fundamentals. Please refer to our past e-tips, our Total Game Overview instruction and our 7 Principles of Golf Improvement (Volume #4) – You can see more at:

Okay – now that you have checked the 3 keys to good putting (and passed them) – let’s talk about how to teach yourself to read greens.

Reading greens is an “art” that is acquired through a process of what I call “trial and error/trial and succeed”. Let me explain.

First – remember – 60% of break occurs within the last 3 feet of a putt. But, there is an issue here. That 3 feet should be 2 feet before the hole and up to 12 inches past the hole (with good speed). Problem is if we don’t have good speed. For example, if you hit a putt too hard – goes 3 feet past the hole if missed, 60% of the break will occur past the hole. Meaning, only 40% of the break will occur between the ball and the hole, 60% of the break after – very hard to read with consistency – in fact, impossible to read with consistency, if you don’t have consistent/good speed.

So – if you want to be a good reader of greens, you MUST FIRST HAVE GOOD SPEED CONTROL on the greens.

Second – How to you teach yourself how to read greens?

I believe the best putter in the world is Tiger Woods – if you question that, just watch him putt under pressure, or count how many putts he makes in a given round… he makes more “long” putts in a given round than most professionals make in a tournament. I saw a stat last week – Tiger won the Western Open a few weeks ago – he made 49 of 50 putts from 8 feet and inside – WOW!!! To be the best putter – you must be the best “reader” of greens…

Now, how did Tiger teach himself to read greens??

Let me tell you what I have seen being around Tiger and watching him in the past on the putting green (I have put most of these practices in my preround routines also…)

  1. The first thing he does when he gets to a tournament/round of golf is he works on the speed of the greens. The speed of the greens will change – even from day to day. He putts mid to long putts to “learn” the speed of the greens. He continues to putt these putts until he has developed consistent speed. (You must get used to the speed of today’s greens – especially when playing public/private type courses that might be mowed one day, not the next, or even if the greens are being played in the morning/afternoon or evening – the pace of the greens will change.)
  2. Next – he takes two golf balls and does the tee drill as described above (putting between tees to check his putter path). He does this for a few minutes to make sure his putter face and path are good.
  3. Now – he goes to the reading greens part. He takes ONE ball. Goes about 10 feet from the hole. He reads the putt, and putts the ONE ball toward the hole. If he makes the putt he goes to another spot (typically 90* from where he is to the same hole). If he misses the putt – here is the part most golfers DO NOT DO. He goes back to the same spot, reads the putt again, and putts again. He continues to do this until he makes the putt. He does this from all 4 “corners” around the hole – so typically he will have a left to right putt, right to left putt, downhill putt and uphill putt. After making all 4 putts from around the hole (only one ball, reading the putt each time and putting until he makes it) he goes to a different hole and now putts from about 15 feet. He does the same “four corner” drill. After making the 4 putts from 15 feet – he does the same from about 20 feet on a third hole.

Let’s talk about this drill Tiger is performing (to be honest, I have seen many professionals/good players do this drill in practice many, many times – in fact, I watched Dr. Gil Morgan do this drill for about 2 hours one day…). This drill is teaching the player how to read greens. The reason it is teaching him to read greens is because he is putting only one ball – reading every putt and when he misses a putt – he goes back to the same spot, reads it again and putts it again. He does this over and over until he makes the putt. This is the “trial and error/trial and succeed” method I described above.

Tiger (and any other golfer performing this drill) is teaching is eyes to match his mind to match his stroke… In other words, he is training his eyes to tell his brain what the putt is going to do (reading the putt) and then testing it. If it is a success – he goes on. If it is a failure – he does it again – this process is a process of training the eyes to read the greens.

What else does this drill do:

  1. Many golfers are good at reading some putts, not others. The putts that “match” their stroke or “eye” (for example, most right handed golfers putt right to left putts much better than left to right putts) are much easier than ones that don’t. This drill works on all types of putts – as you are circling the hole, you will work on different breaks and uphill/downhill putts.
  2. The drill builds a “positive” thought over the putt. Most golfers will putt at a hole, miss a couple of putts and go on. You are not moving to another putt until you make the previous putt – leaving with a positive thought.

We putt on many different types of surfaces. Bermuda, Bent, Zoysia, Poana, (weeds..dirt..). All these surfaces putt and read different (some have grain, some don’t – some can be affected by wind, some aren’t – some are faster when dry, some aren’t. The key is to teach yourself how to read greens by a “trial and error/trial and succeed” type process. The process is set up to improve your reading of greens and ultimately your overall game by lowering your number of putts each round.

Lastly – couple “tricks of the trade” –

These “tricks of the trade” are used by many good players and will enhance your green reading:

  1. Circle the hole when you are reading the putt. In other words – read from behind ball, then go on the otherside of the hole and read from behind the hole – when you return to the ball to putt go the opposite way you came to the hole. In other words, circle the hole so you can see the putt from all angles. Many professionals will tell you your “feet” will help you feel the slope of the green and will enhance your green reading.
  2. Watch what the other putts are doing on the green (and chips). When you are on the green, watch what the other golfer’s putts (and chips) are doing – how they are breaking – how fast or slow they are, etc… Let the other golfer’s shots “educate” you. If you don’t think the good players do this – you are greatly mistaken. A few years ago, Jack Nicklaus was paired with Arnold Palmer at the Masters. On one of the greens Jack was lined up to putt his ball, back off, looked at Arnold Palmer and said “Come on Arnie, you’re practically standing on my line”. (Palmer was trying to “sneak a peek” down Jacks line when he was putting to give him a read).
  3. For many – on mid to long putts – go to about 5 feet from the hole – pick a spot on the green you think the putt needs to travel over to make it, hover your putter over that spot and practice stroke from there. Do not touch the green with your putter as it is a penalty, but practice putting on your line from about 5 feet will give you a much better feel for the break around the hole (which is typically the majority of break…)
  4. Shade your eyes when you are lining up a putt. Many wear hats which help, some wear sun glasses (actually one of big reasons I wear mine) because getting the glare off your eyes will help you see the putt better. As they say, wide open eyes read better than eyes half closes (squinting).

Good Luck – Remember – Always Practice with a Purpose