To make a putt, you need to have two components come together – you need to make a great read, and you need to make a great stroke.

Reading Putts Lesson by PGA Teaching Pro Dean Butler

If either of those two pieces goes missing, it’s likely that the putt will miss in the end. While there is plenty of discussion to be had on proper putting technique, we are going to leave that to the side for this article. Instead, we are going to turn our attention to reading your putts properly. This is an element of the game that often goes overlooked, but that shouldn’t be the case. With the ability to read greens accurately, you may find that more of your putts fall in than ever before.

Getting a good read on your putts might not change the mechanics of your stroke directly, but you may find that your stroke actually works better on the course when you have a clear read in mind. Many golfers stand over the ball without a specific read in place – they simply think the ball will move ‘a little left’ or ‘a little right’. If you don’t take the time to specify your read, there will be doubt in the back of your mind, and that doubt may show itself in the form of a poor stroke. Get into the habit of confidently finalizing your read before making a stroke and you’ll be freed up to swing the putter nicely time after time.

All of the content below is based on a right-handed golfer. If you happen to play left handed, please take a moment to reverse the directions as necessary.

Each Read Has Two Parts

Reading Putts Lesson by PGA Teaching Pro Dean Butler

On a basic level, you are going to want to divide up each putt you read into two parts – the line and the speed. You’ll need to get both of them right in order to make the putt, and one depends on the other, so they will always need to work together. Because a putt with more speed is going to break less than a putt hit softer, you have to know what speed you intend to use on the putt before you can pick out the right line. It’s not enough to say that a given putt is ‘one ball outside right’, as such a statement ignores the pace that will be used. Great putters know how to get their line and speed to work together in a way that gives the ball a chance to fall in.

It’s not a very good idea to reinvent your speed plan for each and every putt. In other words, you don’t really want to go back and forth between putting with aggressive speed on some holes and conservative speed on others. Ideally, you will find a putting pace that is comfortable for you and you’ll stick with that in almost all situations. So, for example, some people love the feeling of giving the ball plenty of pace, in order to hold the line and make sure they don’t come up short. That’s fine if that is how you like to putt but keep that strategy in mind as you read your putts and be consistent with the approach. If you’re constantly trying to go back and forth between speeds, it will be hard to read putts correctly and you’ll be more confused than anything else. Of course, if you opt for this kind of aggressive putting, remember that you will have to face your share of three- or four-foot comebackers when you miss.

As you go about the process of reading your putts, which we will talk about in greater detail later in the article, you will want to have both speed and line in mind at all times. It really doesn’t work to figure out one before the other, since they are so closely connected. As you gain experience, you shouldn’t have to think as much about speed, because you will know automatically how you are going to approach the putt from a speed perspective. Players who like to be aggressive will naturally read a little less break than those who like to die the ball right around the hole.

Finding the Right Perspective

Reading Putts Lesson by PGA Teaching Pro Dean Butler

One of the challenges related to green reading for the average senior golfer is figuring out where to stand while reading a putt. You don’t want to take too much time wandering around the green to get a good look, but you also don’t want to just take a quick glance from behind the hole before taking your stance.

There are actually three important places from which to view a putt. That might sound like a lot, but once you get into the habit of visiting these three spots before each putt, you’ll find that it doesn’t take much time at all. Let’s go through each of the three important vantage points to establish what you should be looking for from each spot.

  • Behind the hole. For most golfers, the best place to start when getting a read is actually behind the hole, not behind the ball. The key here is the fact that the ball will be slowing down as it reaches the hole, so the slope at the end of the putt is more important than the slope at the beginning. Taking a look from a few feet behind the hole will help you get a great idea for what is going to happen as the ball loses speed. Sure, it takes a bit of extra effort to get yourself over to that vantage point before putting, but it’s worth it. You’ll have a good perspective on what the end of the putt is going to do, and you can work backwards from there to finalize your read.
  • A side angle. It’s pretty common knowledge that looking down the line – both from behind the ball and behind the hole – is a good idea when reading a putt. What you might not know, however, is that taking a look from the side is a key part of this process. From the side, you won’t learn much about the left or right break of the putt, but you will get a good indication as to whether you are putting uphill or downhill. That’s important information, obviously, and standing off to the side of the putting line is the best perspective. Specifically, you should try to stand on the low side of the putt, halfway between the ball and the hole. Stand back a few steps from the line so you can see a wide enough angle to determine if you are putting uphill or downhill, and how much. It would be a shame to skip this step and get the speed of your putt wrong as a result.
  • Behind the ball. Finally, the perspective that most golfers use as their main method of reading a putt. While we want to emphasize the importance of those first two points, we agree that it’s important to look at your putt from behind the ball. This should be the last step in your process, as you finalize your read and get ready to walk up and stroke the putt. There are a couple of things you should be doing when you stand behind the ball. First, you want to finalize the read and commit to the line you have selected. You will do this by combining what you see from behind the ball with what you saw from those other two vantage points. Then, with your line selected, you will want to pick out an intermediate target that you can use to align yourself at address. Ideally, you’ll find something on the green that is precisely on your target line and only a foot or two (or less) in front of your ball. This could be a minor blemish on the putting surface, a discolored blade of grass, or really anything that grabs your attention. Once you learn to look at the fine details on a green, you’ll be surprised how easy it is to spot something that you can use for this purpose. With your intermediate target selected, you’ll simply walk up to the ball, square your putter face with that target, and get ready to make your stroke.

In the end, you would be well-served to look at each of your putts from all three of the perspectives listed above. However, the way the game works will actually not require you to take each of these steps for every single putt. For instance, if you have a three-footer, you don’t really need to stand off to the side to see if it is uphill or downhill, as that should be pretty obvious from any angle. The idea is to gather all of the information you need to feel confident about your putt when the time comes to send the ball on its way. Later in the article, we’ll discuss building a putting routine that can help you get all the information you need without slowing down play for everyone else.

Some Helpful Tricks

Reading Putts Lesson by PGA Teaching Pro Dean Butler

Have you ever played a round of golf with someone who seemed to be a master at green reading? This is a skill like anything else in golf, and you would be wise to work on honing your green reading talents if you would like to shoot lower scores in the future. In this section, we will offer up some potentially helpful tricks to take your green reading to a new level. You will likely get more benefit from some of these tricks than others, so try them out for yourself and see which ones make a difference in your game.

  • Fast or slow. One of the easiest ‘tricks’ you can use to read putts more accurately is to remember that the speed of the greens is going to play a role in how much your putts move from side to side. Generally speaking, putts on faster greens are going to move more left or right than putts on slower greens. This is because you will hit the ball harder on a slower green, giving the ball a higher initial velocity and less chance to take the slope. Putts on slow greens will still break, of course, but usually not as much as similar putts on fast greens. Also, you have to be careful not to run your putts too far past the hole on fast greens, meaning you need to use cautious speed – which will again allow the putt more opportunity to break. It’s important to pay attention to this variable while warming up before your round. As you spend time on the practice green getting ready, watch how much your putts are breaking and keep that information in mind once the round begins.
  • Check for drainage. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that water flows downhill. So, when a golf course designer is installing drainage for the course, where will the drains be? In the low spots, of course! When standing on a green, or while you are walking up, take a look around to find the spot where the water has been encouraged to flow. Some golf courses will have actual drains you can see, while others will have ‘natural’ drains – either way, you should be able to figure out where water would go in a rain storm. Once you’ve spotted the drainage area, you can use that point to inform your decisions regarding the slope of the green. Is the ball automatically going to break toward the drain? Nope – if only it were that simple. This is just one of many factors that you can take into account when trying to determine the break of your upcoming putt. Not only will finding the drainage around a green help you read side-to-side break, but it will also help you judge the speed of your uphill and downhill putts. As you gain experience, you should find that locating the direction water will drain is actually a quick and easy task.
  • Never miss an opportunity. If you are playing with other golfers, their putts are free information regarding the slope of the green. As others putt, pay close attention to how the ball reacts as it moves close to the hole. Most golfers know to watch another player’s putt if they are playing on the same line, but you can actually learn something about the green no matter where another player is putting from. You’ll want to watch both the way the ball turns from side to side as it slows down as well as the speed of the putt. Did the ball seem to keep running out as it got close to the hole, or did it slow down quickly? Gather as much information as possible when watching everyone else putt and add that knowledge to what you get from your own read.
  • Ask around. Every course has its own little bits of local knowledge which can help a golfer get around more successfully. Some courses seem to have all the putts break in a certain direction, for instance, while other courses have greens that tend to not break as much as they seem. If possible, ask someone with plenty of experience on the course you are playing to offer a few tips. You may be able to ask in the pro shop before your round begins, or you might happen to get paired with someone that possesses some local knowledge. Like with anything else, this kind of local knowledge shouldn’t be the final word on your reads, but rather just another piece of a complicated puzzle.

When you start to pay close attention to the way your putts are breaking, you may notice that you spot your own patterns and trends that help you hole more putts. The value of experience in golf cannot be overstated, so don’t discount those things you happen to learn along the way.

Creating a Routine

Reading Putts Lesson by PGA Teaching Pro Dean Butler

To finish up this article, we are going to outline a routine that you can use to take yourself from the moment the putter comes out of your bag to the moment to pick the ball up out of the hole. It should go without saying that you are free to alter this procedure in any way that you see fit. Whatever you settle on in the end, it is important to have a routine that you can repeat time after time. Using a routine is important because it will help you touch on all the important points before you take your stance over the ball to roll a putt. Without a good routine, you may forget about certain pieces of the puzzle from time to time, and you’d be lacking the consistency that is required to play well.

  • As you walk up to the green, knowing your next shot will be a putt, you should already be evaluating the slope of the ground both on and around the putting surface. You can learn a lot by looking at the green from a distance, so don’t let your mind wander at this point. The goal at this point is not to get a specific read, of course, but rather to figure out generally which way you would expect your putt to break. As you get closer and start to take your reads from around the putt, you will be able to get more specific and dial in on a line.
  • Once you’ve reached the green, mark your ball and head directly for the opposite side of the hole to take your first read. Stand a few feet back from the hole on an extension of the putting line, looking back toward where your ball marker is located. Gather all the information you need from this perspective before moving on.
  • With that behind-the-hole read complete, the next step is to read the putt from the side. Walk back toward your ball marker on the low side of the hole, a few steps off to the side of the line. Stop halfway between the hole and your ball marker to take a glance and evaluate the uphill or downhill component of the putt. It should only take a moment here to learn what you need to know.
  • Finally, you’ll arrive back at your ball marker. It’s a good idea to place the ball down on the ground at this point, pick up your ball marker, and step back to finish your read. Take one last look down toward the hole, pick your line, and find an intermediate target to use for the putt. If you would like, you can make one or two quick practice strokes while standing behind the ball before walking up.
  • As you arrive at the ball, the first step is to place the putter head behind the ball and adjust the face until it is perfectly aligned toward your intermediate target. With the putter face in position, finish taking the rest of your stance and settle in for the putt. Your body should be comfortable and relaxed, but with enough posture to promote a clean swing back and through.
  • At this point, all the prep work is done and it’s time to send the ball on its way. Do your best not to get ‘stuck’ at this point – you have done everything you can do to be successful, so just start the stroke and trust your preparation. With any luck, you’ll make more than you miss, and your scores will benefit as a result.

Putting well is a tremendous challenge. Compared to hitting the ball accurately hundreds of yards through the air, you might be tempted to think that putting is a pretty easy task. Any experienced golfer knows better, however. By working hard on improving your green reading skills, you should be able to see more putts go in – and that’s always a great feeling. Good luck!