Ask Golf Digest: Is There Scientific Evidence That Putts Actually Break Toward Water?

June 13, 2018

Illustration by Chris Gash

I've often heard that putts will break toward any body of water near the green. Is there any scientific evidence to support this? – Brent Ledford, Boise, Idaho

Putts often do break toward the water, but it's not the H²0 they're reacting to. As short-game guru Stan Utley explains, "Putts break because of gravity." If there's a mountain to your right and a lake to your left, the land will typically slope from right to left—and that's the way a putt will tend to break. The era of the golf course you're playing has a lot to do with this general rule. Older courses were primarily built along existing terrain, making it easier to spot these breaks. Modern architects can move more dirt, tricking players with counterintuitive topography. Your best move: Look for the drainage area on each green Putts will tend to break in that direction unless there's some obvious contour interrupting the path.

My ball landed right next to a dug-up sprinkler head, which was being repaired. Because there was a large hole, the maintenance crew couldn't mow the grass around the hole, so my ball was in four-inch rough. Could I have taken a free drop? – Jamison Riley, Chico, Calif.

Bad luck. The hole, even if it's unmarked, counts as ground under repair. But because your ball was not in or touching the hole— it sounds as if the area around the hole was not marked as ground under repair—you have to play this one as it lies. You would get free relief if the hole affected your normal stance or swing.

Why doesn't the Ryder Cup use a shotgun start for singles? This would put everyone in play versus having the last matches rendered meaningless if the winner has already been decided. – Phil Hill, Philadelphia

This is lively thinking, but it wouldn't really solve the lame-duck matches issue. Once the deciding match concluded—possibly on a remote part of the course—the other matches would still need to be played out. It would spell the end of strategic match-ordering and tactics such as "front-loading." No more gladiator-like entrances on the first tee, Bruce Buffer-like introductions, and pressure-induced duck-hooks. For now, we favor the status quo.

Cleaning out my golf bag to get ready for the upcoming season, I came across a liquor flask that had some bourbon left over (for a snakebite or to celebrate small victories on the course). How often does the flask need to be cleaned, and what is the best way to do it?
– John Lapsley, Saline, Mich.

You're sharing a flask among a group, and you found leftover bourbon? That hurts. But we'll set aside your wasting of perfectly good whiskey and answer your question. We clean our flasks once a month, to keep residue from building up. Here's how to do it: First, fill the flask about two-thirds with white vinegar. Then you want to add some kind of abrasive—rice, baking soda, Augusta sand, etc. Close the lid, shake the flask vigorously for about 30 seconds, empty the contents, and rinse with hot water. You're good to go. Just remember, bourbon has feelings, too.

I love the standard metal ball markers that clip to one's hat. One of my friends insists it is unprofessional to use anything but the plastic markers with the spike in the bottom. The other day, my ball was outside of his line by at least two feet. He walked up, threw my favorite marker aside with a curse, and replaced it with his plastic marker. Who's in the wrong here? – John Kamin, Encino, Calif.

Your friend is so very wrong. Those hat-clip ball markers are a little goofy, and it's true that pros don't use them much, but they're certainly convenient. And they're allowed under the Rules of Golf, which call for using "a ball marker, a small coin or other similar object" when picking up a ball on the green. As for his replacement of your marker, that's rude—and might incur him a penalty stroke. Only you or an authorized person (e.g., a caddie) can mark your ball, according to the rules. There's a one-stroke penalty for moving another player's ball or mark in match play. In stroke play, there is no penalty.

Submit your burning questions here: or on Twitter @GolfDigest