One of golf’s greatest mysteries is decoding the amount of slope or undulation there is on a putting surface. Golf’s greatest players are constantly fooled by subtle breaks bringing amusement to those watching the antics of their disbelief. The best putting strokes are useless if the putt is read incorrectly. The average golfer has no clue as to which direction a ball will roll. Here are a few ideas that have influenced my putting and that will shed some light on your ability.
Feel the Green with Your Feet
One of the easiest ways to accurately read undulation on a putting surface is to use your feet. I was given this advice from my current boss, Jeff Warne, PGA, whom I consider one of the best putters around. Your feet can act as a sensor to help you determine slope. When you are standing over your golf ball listen to what your feet are telling you. If one foot is higher than the other, you can determine the uphill or downhill nature of the slope. If the golf ball seems to be above or below your feet, you can determine the side hill nature of the slope. There are two areas that I think are important to decode: around the cup and next to where the ball lies. On most putts the ball is slowing down as it approaches the hole. This means that the slope around the hole will create more curvature and influence your ball the most. At the other end, where a putt is initially hit, it is critical to start the ball on the correct line. If your ball is on a side hill lie, it is very easy to let the slope pull the putt immediately off line.
Look for the Drains
I had the privilege to work for Jack Nicklaus, the greatest player to ever play the game. Nicklaus had a unique approach to decoding the slope in a green: gravity. He knew that in order to properly maintain a healthy green there needs to be proper drainage to collect and move away excess water. In order for a drain to be effective, it is placed in the lowest areas around the green. Nicklaus knew the gravity of these low areas would have a pulling effect on the ball. One could argue that this way of thinking helped him hole a crucial putt on the 17th hole at the 1986 Masters, securing a record sixth Green Jacket. The next time you approach a green at your local course, look for this evidence and watch to see the influence it has on your ball.
The average golfer does not need a worm camera or a good caddie to become an expert in decoding the undulation of a green. These simple ideas from some of my biggest mentors will help you see the basic slope on a putting surface and will help you decode one of golf’s greatest mysteries.
Darren deMaille is a PGA Professional and the Head Golf Professional at The Bridge in Bridgehampton. For questions, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.