Updated: Mar 24
Putting, which accounts for approximately 40 - 45% of all shots played irrespective of skill level (excluding elite PGA tour level which is approximately 35%) is a closed, self-paced skill that takes place in a relatively stable and predictable environment, where there is adequate time to prepare for the execution of the putting stroke. Think about that statistic; putting is nearly half of all shots played in a round of golf. Therefore, your practice activities should equate accordingly. However, I suspect like most golfers you spend a greater amount of your practice time hitting full-swing shots. That is, blindly hitting golf balls on a range without any meaning or structure.
Answer these questions and be honest with yourself:
1. How does your putting practice regime compare to other parts of your game in terms of time spent?
2. What type of putting practice do you do? Is it structured ?
3. How many putting lessons have you had for your stroke and technique?
4. How many green-reading lessons have you had?
5. How many lessons have you had in aiming on the greens?
6. How often do you practice green reading and aiming?
7. Have you had a putter fitting?
8. Do you have a putting coach?
From a performance coaching perspective, I suspect the answers to each of these questions for the majority of you will not make good reading. Interestingly, when golfers do practice their putting it tends to be just stroke and technique that they work on rather than trying to master green reading. Notably, of all the principle putting tasks, stroke and technique have attracted the most attention from coaches, and players. Instructional articles, blogs and videos are commonplace with very few (if any) addressing other principal putting tasks. This is interesting as the scientific research suggests golfers need to practice more on green reading and aiming as a priority. So, rather than purchasing a new driver that gets used maybe 11 or 12 times per round that may or may not improve your game, learn how to read a green, that will be a much better strategy for your game improvement.
START WITH GETTING YOUR EYES TESTED AND LEARNING HOW TO READ A GREEN
To improve your putting you need good vision and depth perception. Please get to an optometrist and inform them you want to read greens more accurately. They will carry out various eye checks for you and may prescribe a correctional vision plan.
Golfers can plan their actions in advance and vision is an essential component in providing relevant visual information required by the motor control system to attain a high level of putting performance.
According to recent research, it’s important for golfers to have a ‘visual strategy’ to direct the visual system to optimal areas in the putting environment at the appropriate time and is central to success in holing more putts. In terms of vision, green reading demands the use of stereopsis (the perception of depth produced by the reception in the brain of visual stimuli from both eyes in combination), and colour contrast sensitivity, both of which are affected by a player’s visual acuity and colour vision. Stereopsis is important for judging the distance between the ball and the hole, and colour perception and contrast sensitivity are important for perceiving the contours of the green.
Green reading is more important than stroke and technique both for precision in force control (distance) and aiming (direction). To improve your putting you need to learn how to read a green. Green reading is the most visually complicated of the putting principle tasks. It requires an accurate judgement of the distance of the ball from the hole, determining the amount of friction the grass will exert on the ball, reading the contours of the green to determine how the ball will break, and understanding the type and cut of the grass. Furthermore, there must be consideration of the time of day, how the weather will affect the line and pace of the ball once it is hit, not to mention the unpredictable effect of footprints, sand, pitch marks and wear and tear of the green caused by other golfers.
Tips for learning how to read a green:
1. Start to observe the green topography from 40 yards out from the green. This will enable you to see the whole of the green without eye movement to determine the correct perspective and degree of slope that will affect the roll of the ball
2. Imagine a large watering can slowly pouring water over the green. Picture where the water would flow and how it would affect the ball’s roll
3. Tune in to the visual system by relegating other sensory systems (e.g., body movement) to the background; think less about the stroke and more about what you see
4. Pay attention to the different sections of the green by dividing the green into 1/4’s for assessing how the surrounding topography influences the ball’s roll (e.g., the water surrounding part of the green)
5. Pay most attention to where the hole resides, because it has the most influence on the ball’s roll
6. For longer putts divide the putt into sections (eg., 5ft, 15ft. 30ft.), treat each distance to the hole as a separate putt to analyse, and then determine the combined characteristics of the putt to assess which section affects the ball’s roll the most
7. Try and read the green from behind the hole first, especially on downhill putts as this is often a better perspective than behind the ball
8. Uphill putts add to the effective distance of the putt
9. Downhill putts reduce the effective distance to the hole
10. The greater the slope, the greater the ball’s roll will be affected
11. The faster the ball speed on slow greens the less effect of the slope
12. A slope near the proximity of the ball will have less effect than when the slope is in close proximity to the hole
If you are a golfer with sound technique and a smooth rhythmic stroke who can't hole a putt. I suspect it may have something to do with your lack of ability in green reading. To hammer home this point, several golfing greats had unorthodox putting strokes but could still get the ball in the hole. Why? because they could read the green. Billy Mayfair is a fine example, Billy was renowned for cutting across the ball during his putting stroke and still made millions of dollars throughout his excellent career.
In conclusion, It will be beneficial for golfers to get their eyesight tested and give higher priority to green reading in their putting practice.