Golf IQ

This green-reading method really helped my putting. Here’s how to do it


Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

February 23, 2024

I have always been a decent putter, but certainly not a great one. I feel comfortable starting the ball consistently online, but I have often struggled with reading greens. It’s a deflating feeling—to hit the putt on the exact line you want, with perfect speed, only to see it fall offline or be way too high.

Yet a few years ago, I got a fantastic green-reading tip that transformed my putting.

The tip that worked for me...

If you are not seeing the slopes properly, you’re likely missing the macro picture of what is going on. Often, pros will talk about how they start to read the green even before they reach the putting surface. They’re looking for the high points, low points and the general slopes on the green, so they have a rough estimate of how their putt will break before they reach their ball.

Seeing the putt from this macro view is essential, as if you stand too close to your line, you might see the subtleties of the breaks but miss the big picture, which has far more of an impact on the break.

So, the tip I got was simple yet makes a lot of sense: Read your putts from 20 feet behind the ball. Most people read their putts from just a few feet behind the ball. As I said, this is a great method to pick up on the subtleties of the greens, and I would suggest continuing to do that. But, consider adding a view from well behind your ball to your routine.

When you take five or 10 big steps back from your ball, you will be shocked at how clearly you can now see the line. From this perspective, you get that macro view where the high points and low points are clear. Putting coaches talk about if you poured water on the green, where would it go? Well, standing 20-30 feet behind the ball gives you a clear sense of where those low points are—in my experience, far more so than a close-up view.

So if you’re struggling with green-reading, give this trick a try—and consider these three popular green-reading methods and see which works best for you.

Method 1: Trace a line

More creative putters tend to see the entire line of a putt as a trace, similar to how you might see the “ideal line” shown on a television broadcast. These players don’t necessary pick out a specific point on the green to aim at, but instead, they see a trace in their mind and simply try to roll the ball over that trace. It’s a very artistic approach, so if you tend to be more creative than rigid or linear, this might be a good method for you. Butch Harmon talks about this in in Golf Digest Schools series right here.

Method 2: Find the apex

Another approach is to find the apex, or highest point, of the putt and focus intently on rolling the ball toward that spot. You know you’ve found the apex of a putt when you stand by it and look at the hole, it looks like a straight putt.

Butch Harmon says to focus your attention on putting to the apex, instead of the hole. Often, even after golfers identify the break and the highest point, they will take a last look at the hole. They will tend to react to the hole and will often miss low. Instead, if you prefer to focus on the highest point of the putt, then make sure your last look is there.

Method 3: The "hole" approach

This might be the most common method, as you hear golfers saying a putt is “a cup out” or “a ball out,” meaning that they are aiming that far outside the hole. These players like to see every putt as perfectly straight, so they identify where they would need to aim to make a putt “feel” straight.


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This method ties well with what Rory McIlroy calls “spot putting,” where you pick a spot a few inches in front of your ball and focus on rolling it over that spot. Instead of focusing on the apex, with this approach you’re only concerned with a spot just in front of your ball. In fact, McIlroy used a one-word mantra, “spot,” before every putt en route to winning the 2014 Open Championship. If you’re getting overwhelmed on the greens, this is a great way to simplify your approach.

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