Reading Greens & Lining Up Putts – Direction in Putting

A well-struck putt heading confidently to the cup begs just one question – “Why can’t I do that every time!?” Improve your odds for a great putt by starting the ball on line to the cup, getting it going in the right direction. Establish a process of reading a green and lining up a putt, use the process every time, and improvement will follow. Trust the process!


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  • It starts before you get there.
    You’ve made your chip, which is really a putt for position.  Now survey the situation as you walk to the green. Notice the overall contour of the land, predominant slope, drains, nearby water, etc. Is it breezy? Now is a good time to quickly walk around the green and collect info.
  • See the big picture
    Greens typically go with the tilt of the terrain. Are you on a hill?

  • Know your territory
    Old greens are typically low in front, high in the back.  In Florida, greens tend to tilt to the water. Newer greens are more complicated. Look for the drain.
  • Get your eyes low.
    Greens are constructed to drain off in two or three places. Stand in the low point of the green and get even lower by kneeling. This vantage point is not always located behind your ball.
  • Pay attention to others
    Watch the way the ball behaves when your partners chip and putt. Pay special attention to the area right around the cup.
  • Read with your feet.
    Is the green soft or firm, wet or dry?  Your feet can even tell you about the tilt you’re standing on.
  • Make a note.
    If you keep a golf journal, record information about specific greens.  Draw a green diagram with little arrows for little breaks and big arrows for big breaks.

You’ve determined where you want to putt the ball. Now get it going exactly there.

  • Mark it … before you start playing.
    Draw a semi-circle with a Sharpie pen on your ball, nice and tidy with an inexpensive aid designed for the task. Many pro golfers mark their balls for putting alignment (and tee shots).
  • Mark it … on the green.
    Use a ball marker so you can move and reset your ball.
  • Aim for alignment
    Get low again, placing the ball with one hand out in front of you. Aim the mark you’ve made on the ball exactly down the path you’ve determined to start your putt.  Getting low behind the ball gives a truer read than what you get when you are in your putting stance.
  • An intermediate target is a fine idea.
    Pick out a small distinguishing feature on your target path – a blade of grass, a brown spot.  Try aiming for it instead of for the hole if there is break.
  • Match it up.
    Take your stance, matching the little guide on the top of your putter with the line on your ball. Trust it. Hit it.
  • Side note.
    Take your practice strokes while you look at the hole or target.  This will help you find the right speed. Green reading is also essential for speed.  We must know if we are up hill or down hill.
  • Persevere!
    Establish a process for your putting and stick to it.  You’ll see results over time.

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Tending the Flagstick

Rule 17 in the Rules of Golf is devoted to the flagstick.  It’s essential reading. Remember:  no ball that begins on the green may touch the flag stick, whether it’s in the hole, lying on the green, or being held by another player.

Sometimes it’s difficult for a player to see the hole on a green. A player may ask another – often the person whose ball is closest to the cup – to attend the flag stick while she’s putting.

Knowing the rules, possible penalties and basic etiquette is important. Here’s how to attend a flagstick.

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  • Lift flagstick from the hole to be sure it isn’t jammed and then return it.
  • Stand at a distance so your arm is outstretched and grasp the stick firmly.

  • Pay attention to where you’re standing. Avoid casting a shadow and also be aware of the putting lines of other players.
  • Once the ball is in motion, remove the flagstick straight up (that’s delicate territory around the cup) and walk away.
  • Lay the flagstick on the green out of the line of all players.

A few last notes of niceness:

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  • Closest to the flagstick
    Did your shot land closest to the pin? Head over to it and be ready to tend it if asked.  You may ask the putter if she would like you to tend the flag. If she declines, take it out and lay it out of play.
  • First to putt out
    If you are first to putt out, mosey over to where the flagstick is lying and be ready to pick it up and put it back in the hole. Efficiency in all things.
  • Did you leave your wedge back at the last hole?
    The smart golfer places extra clubs she’s brought to the green next to where the flagstick is lying. Hard to forget them there.