Box the Break
by Geoff Mangum
The only part of the green that matters is the part the ball rolls over from address into the cup, so you can "box" this putt and focus only on this surface while learning something valuable about the break and how to start the putt off so it feeds into the break correctly and goes on to sink -- simplify a typical breaking putt to a break point and then a higher aim spot for starting the putt off, with the intention of having the ball break off the start-line so it turns parallel to the baseline right at the break point.
To "box the break," consider a 10-foot putt that breaks right-to-left with a break of 2 feet.
The first step in boxing the break is the eliminate ALL of the low side. Just treat the green like a giant cake and slice off everything to the left of a line from ball to hole:
Next, box the break inside a rectangle such that the long side of the box on the low side is the same as the cake slice, and the two short sides extend uphill as far as the break point, thus:
The area inside the rectangle is the only piece of the green surface this particular putt is concerned with. Now the only matter to consider is the direction to start the putt off to begin with so this putt takes the break correctly. The important point to note is that at the break point itself, the path of the putt is parallel with the baseline straight from ball to hole. In other words, the putt is changing direction from uphill to downhill, and right at the location of the break point, this direction of roll is precisely parallel to the baseline.
Consequently, you CANNOT aim at the break point to start the putt off, since there will inevitably be SOME breaking of the putt between ball and break point, so aiming at the break point will insure losing the putt to the low side.
The actual AIM SPOT for starting the roll off will have to be further uphill than the break point. In terms of the rectangle, the aim spot will be closer to the ball along the high side of the box that includes the break point. If you call the line from the ball through this aim spot the "Dropoff Line," then a ball started off in this direction will take a little break and "drop off" this line as the path changes direction. The trick is to pick an aim spot such that the putt drops off just right and the path becomes parallel to the baseline right at the break point. If you can accomplish this, the speed of your putt for the remainder of the path is likely to be just right.
With this approach, you simplify a typical breaking putt to a break point and then an aim spot for starting the putt off, with the intention of having the ball break off the start-line so it turns parallel to the baseline right at the break point.
As the ratio of the sides of the rectangle change, to a narrower box or a fatter box, the aim spot shifts closer to or farther from the break point. And the farther along towards the hole the break point is, the closer the aim spot is to the break point. But for a simple breaking putt, the aim spot is NEVER less uphill than the break point.
Speaking generally, for most putts in which the ratio of the short side to the long side of the rectangle is about 1 to 20 (e.g., a 20-foot putt with a 1-foot break or a 10-foot putt with a 0.5-foot break), the aim spot and the break point will be nearly the same. But for fatter boxes, the break point is too low as an aim spot. Just how much higher the aim spot needs to be depends upon your sense of the start-line that delivers the ball with the speed that allows it to drop off the start-line just right through the break point.
Make this Part of Your Game
The conclusions to draw from the above are:
1. Technically, for simple breaking putts across flat-but-tilted surface, the break point is NEVER high enough to serve as an aim spot for starting the putt off, and also aiming lower than the break point clearly won't do.
2. How much farther you need to aim uphill to start the putt depends on imagining or visualizing a start-line and speed such that the ball drops off this line in such a way that the ball rolls paralell to the baseline right at the break point.
3. But when the shape of the box is long and narrow, for all practical purposes the aim spot is very nearly the same as the break point.
Find a putt on the practice green that breaks about a foot over 10 to 20 feet of run. Get a good read of the path of the breaking putt in your usual fashion and then box the break. Place a tee peg at the break point and putt directly at the break point and watch the ball run low to the amateur side of the cup. Then take a second tee peg and back up along the high side of the box closer to the ball for a trial aim spot. This time, putt to the closer tee peg so the ball drops off this line and negotiates the break point parallel to the baseline. The ball should drop off this line and "take the break" correctly.
To see when the aim spot and the break line nearly merge, find another putt for which the break box is narrow (e.g., a 20-foot putt with 6 inches of break), and place the tee peg at the break point. Putting at the tee peg now will be just about high enough.
For more tips and information on putting, including a free 10,000+ database of putting lore and the Web's only newsletter on putting (also free), visit Geoff's website at http://puttingzone.com, or email him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.