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Four Fundamental "Elements" of Putting Skill

by Geoff Mangum

Geoff Mangum's PuttingZone™ Instruction

ZipTip: Basic Routine: Four Fundamental "Elements" of Putting Skill

The four basic elements everyone needs to master for putting are:

1. READING THE PUTT: pick an effective target to aim at

2. AIMING THE PUTTERFACE AND BODY: aim the putterface and the setup straight at the target

3. ROLLING THE ROCK: putt straight away from the putterface

4. CONTROLLING DISTANCE: putt with good touch or distance control

All putting practice ought to be geared to one or more of these fundamentals. That is, you need to know why you are practicing in a certain way, and what you are supposed to be learning from that specific practice, so you can see improvement in one of these four areas when you play. Obviously, indoors during the winter, your practice will be concentrated in the areas of distance control, putting straight, and aiming.

What you should come to appreciate is that every single putt is the same -- the same process of selecting a target, the same aiming and setup process, and the same stroke with the same tempo. The only thing that ever differs is the length of the backstroke, and as you'll see this is not something you have to think about at all if you have good tempo and an accurate targeting process. In other words, you will always do exactly the same targeting and aiming / setup routine, and you will always make exactly the same stroke movement and always putt the ball in exactly the same way. The ball will always roll away from the putterface and setup in exactly the same direction. There is not much to think about, at least once the target is selected, other than do the same steps of the process well and consistently the same every time.

LEARN THE SKILLS FROM THE GROUND UP. The above 4 fundamentals are ordered chronologically, but in fact it is better to learn them in the order 4, 3, 2, 1 -- sort of like a sock turned inside-out. So, I would recommend learning first a solid, repeating, excellent tempo as the basis for distance control. Then I would learn how to putt straight, no matter where the face is aiming thru the ball, by using consistent movement biomechanics. Then I would learn to putt straight at a specific target by correctly aiming the face and then setting up the body to the aimed face. Finally, using the ability to putt with known distance control and known straight putting accurately at any target, I would learn how to read a putt for purposes of selecting a target to aim at and start the straight putt off out of my setup with good touch. There is nothing else to learn, fundamentally, although there are many, many nice elaborations of these four skills. Learning the psychology of putting is something tackled only in light of the development and nurturing of these four skills, as your skills level determines what sort of psychological issues you will need to deal with.

Distance control is the key to putt reading and effective putting, and TEMPO is the key to distance control. I recommend gravity’s own tempo of about one full second fro top of backstroke to top of follow-thru. But different tempos can work well, but your tempo ought always to be the same. With a stable tempo, every stroke will take exactly the same time from top of backstroke to top of follow-thru regardless of length of backstroke. The pattern of smooth and gradual acceleration down is always the same.

TEMPO FOR TOUCH CONTROLS PUTTERHEAD SPEED AT IMPACT FOR DIFFERENT DISTANCES. A longer stroke just moves faster at the peak speed at the bottom than a short stroke, since the natural and gradual acceleration downward has longer to work in increasing the putterhead speed in a longer fall from a higher backstroke. There is a one-to-one correspondence between all different backstroke lengths (heights of fall of the putterhead), then, and peak putterhead speed at impact (or strictly speaking, at the bottom of the stroke). Every single inch of added backstroke length increases the putterhead speed at impact in precise increments naturally -- not trying to time the downstroke with "muscle memory" or anything artificial. Just ride the putter down as the shoulderframe falls to level. Because of this, for any given green speed, every exact distance across level green will correspond to one and only one backstroke.  

DISTANCE CONTROL IS INSTINCTIVE FOR EACH GREEN AND DISTANCE. Distance control is understanding how the brain relies upon your tempo always being the same, plus recognition of green speed, to "target" the distance of the putt and hence establish the backstroke instinctively and completely without your conscious involvement.

The brain, specifically the cerebellum, uses your pre-established tempo plus an appreciation of green speed, putterhead heft, and ball heft, to know what sort of speed the putterhead will have for every backstroke length. The brain then correlates the length along the ground to the target with the stroke that rolls the ball just that distance, using your even tempo and stroke movement pattern. In simple terms, once you appreciate green speed (you already know your putter and the ball), and once your tempo and motion pattern is set, the only other thing you need for TOUCH is TARGETING. Hence, TOUCH equals TEMPO plus TARGETING.

TARGETING IS MOVEMENT THAT TEACHES THE BODY WHERE THE TARGET IS IN REFERENCE TO THE BODY'S INTENDED ACTION TO THE TARGET. The sense in which I am using TARGETING here is how the body (especially the head and neck) MOVES to build an appreciation for the distance from ball to target for purposes of the forthcoming well-tempoed stroke motion of rolling the ball that distance. It boils down to setting up beside the ball with the gaze straight out of the face and then turning the head-neck like a Ferris Wheel or Tilt-a-Whirl on a stable axis of turn and delivering the passive gaze straight along the ground as the neck turns a specific angle and pace to the target.

HEAD-NECK MOTION WITH FIXED STRAIGHT GAZE TEACHES DISTANCE. Starting by looking straight out of the face (not down the cheeks) and positioning the face so that the gaze is directed down to the ball with the eyes either vertically right above the ball or slightly inside (doesn't matter all that much so long as the gaze is really straight out), the neck ANGLE that results from turning to the target corresponds one-to-one with different distances along the ground. The PACE of the neck turn is the pace that results from imagining your neck turn is making your still gaze follow an actual rolling ball in real time from the address position along the ground towards the target, slowing down and taking any break to the hole, and then toppling over the lip into the hole. (It's best to get this first on level straight putts, and later on breaking putts.) The head then turns the face back along the same path to the ball at your feet, and the last section of every putt path straightens out coming back to the ball and your setup and face alignment, so the start line of the putt is always straight off the face. (That's why it's best to get this first on straight level putts with no curl in the path.)  

Wait for the shine on the ball before pulling the trigger. Once the head and gaze returns to looking down at the ball, pause a moment as vision and balance reestablish their focus, then start the stroke. Looking down to the ball, the eyes will have to adjust the lenses to focus on this new distance. This process takes about a full second, so the shine on the balls cover will come into sharper focus while you are looking at the ball. Just wait in patient stillness. This clears the mind and sets the pivot and eyes in a stable position for the stroke. 

A "ONE POTATO ... TWO" TEMPO LETS THE INSTINCTS WORK FROM THE NON-CONSCIOUS PARTS OF YOUR BRAIN WITHOUT INTERFERENCE TO ESTABLISH THE BACKSTROKE LENGTH. The brain will simply give you the backstroke length by your adhering to your tempo. Let the putter move as far back as it wants while you think "one potato" and don't deliberately get involved in "fixing" the backstroke length -- especially by shortening it and stopping before all four syllables of "one potato" have gotten out and the putter coasts to its own stop at the top of the backstroke, wherever that ends up. Just stay out of your own way on this. The rest of the putt takes care of itself from here on in with your dropping naturally and then riding the putter down and up to a finish. It's always the same. "One potato" coasting to the top, the a transition "...", and then start the lifting to finish the stroke right at the bottom on "two" or on "lift." Always the same.

The end result is that TOUCH is simply the TARGETING "look" that sets the backstroke length instinctively. once the targeting look is done, just putt with a nice tempo.

GREEN SPEED APPRECIATION FROM YOUR CORE PUTT. To back up just a little, getting an appreciation for green speed can come from just hitting some putts and letting it grow on you, or by making a very specific backstroke with perfect tempo and waiting to see what distance results. I call this the "Core Putt" as there is one backstroke length you can repeat every time, which is a backstroke that just gets outside the back foot to a point where it would require your lifting the putterhead to get the putter further back. Once this point is reached, just let that be the backstroke length and go from there to see what sort of distance of roll the specific green will allow. You should be able to send two balls rolling off with this same stroke and tempo so that the second exactly bumps the first. If the balls go different distances, you didn't get the stroke or the tempo or both exactly the same twice, so do it again. Once the balls bump, you have a calibration of what your core putt produces on this green, and the brain will soak that distance in and correlate it with your core backstroke. All other backstrokes on that green speed are built around this core targeting distance. Now you can TARGET that same core distance, and your instinctively occurring backstroke ought to perfectly match your core backstroke. And shorter putts have a shorter backstroke and longer putts have a longer backstroke. Now you have TOUCH simplified to TARGETING. Look and go, so long as you know how and why to look in a certain pattern.
: Having worked out TEMPO and TOUCH with TARGETING and instincts, you need to putt straight every time the same so the ball always goes straight away from the square putterface and exits the setup exactly the same way every time. Wherever the face is "aimed" thru the ball's center, that is how you have to setup the feet and shoulders, hands and eyes. The way to do this is to first place and aim the putterface behind the ball (I use the left hand), and then get the sole of the putter nice and flat on the surface. The putter will be poised behind the ball. You should then "come to the putter" with your hands and feet to adopt your setup without moving or altering the putterhead and its aim. The bad pattern is to adopt your setup and settle your feet WHILE aiming the face or BEFORE aiming the face. You should always aim the face first and then come to the putter for your body setup and only after the grip is taken and the head and gaze set with square shoulders should you "settle the feet." The shoulders and feet need to match in squareness, so square the shoulders to the putterface and THEN get the feet "happy" with this arrangement so they are square also. Actually, you really progress from the setting of the gaze to the full adoption of the grip, and then squaring the shoulders, and then the feet.  

JOINT PAIRS ARE PARALLEL LEFT OF THE PUTTLINE. In adopting a square setup, the body’s joint pairs should all be aligned parallel left of the puttline. The shoulders, the wrists, the elbows, the hips, the knees, and the ankles all point to a position as if you were set up right next to the target itself. Some left-eye dominant but right-handed golfers may need to open the feet and perhaps the shoulders just a little. If the feet are square, the toes will be the same distance from the line of the putt, even if there is some flaring of the feet. One typical fault is to have the back foot too far forward by about ½ an inch. The alignment of the ankles can adversely affect shoulder alignment, so the shoulders and feet ought to match up for squareness. 

CARPENTER'S SQUARE OFF THE FOOT. Everything about the setup builds off the putterface orientation to get the body set for a straight stroke that rolls the ball that way. Once the shoulders are squared to the eye line and putt line, then settle the feet. A line out from the lead big toe will intersect the line square out of the putterface thru the ball's center and form a "T" shape intersection. Every ball MUST roll over the spot of this "T" intersection, or the putt is not straight away from the face. This spot and "T" shape is always exactly the same because your setup distance from feet to puttline is always the same (about two putterheads, and fixed by the distance from your shoulder socket to your pupils, about 8-10 inches for everyone) and the width of your stance for balance is always about the same as the width of your shoulders. Happy feet give you the "all-clear" signal that the body is ready to make a stroke that will roll the ball mover the "T" point. The "T" point is about 3-5 inches ahead of the leading equator of the ball. When looking down at the ball, your entire universe at the time of pulling the trigger is just what you see at your feet, and this look is ALWAYS exactly the same. You can see exactly where the ball must roll over the "T" and this helps sort out the feelings in your shoulders and feet so that the actual stroke movement does what it needs to do for a straight putt.

The upshot of this step is that, wherever the face is aimed, a straight stroke builds from setting up square to the FACE, and not square to the TARGET. That is, however the face is aimed behind the ball, there is one and only one direction square thru the ball, and that is the direction you must setup square to, even if the aim is wrong.

STRAIGHT STROKE MOVEMENT. Once you are square to the face's only aim and puttline, and have taken your head-turn look to gauge distance by programming the neck with an angle and pace, and also to double check that your setup and face is actually aimed where you think it is (part of Step 2), then your job is to roll the ball straight away from the face of the putter over the Carpenter’s “T”. While there are different techniques for putting straight, the technique that I recommend for a straight stroke is a) start straight away from the ball to the top of the backstroke, b) let the shoulderframe rock back down by itself with dead hands, and c) lift the rock straight up to deliver the putterface square thru the back, center, and front of the ball on a slightly rising trajectory down the line. The sweetspot of the putter is used somewhat like a police battering ram lifted by shoulder action straight along the feet to propel the leading dome of the ram into the doorknob. The shoulder action produces a motion in the two hands that run straight above the balls of the feet, without curling around the body back and thru.

START THE TAKEAWAY WITH THE SHOULDER MOVING THE TRIANGLE AS UNIT. With regard to the takeaway, moving the shoulderframe so the lead socket heads to the balls of the foot and then curls back along the line of the feet will push the "triangle" as a unit straight back from the ball. In contrast, if you start the stroke with the hands or arms, the putterhead will likely move across the puttline away from you, and this will spoil the rest of the stroke. At best, you want the shoulders to move the putter away in a straight line or possibly a tiny touch to the inside going back, and any crossing the puttline is absolutely the worst. You will have to teach yourself the benefits of starting the stroke with the shoulderframe so the socket goes down at the balls of the foot. Set up the putter near a wall's baseboard so the toe of the putter is about 1/2 an inch back from the baseboard and use this initial move to show yourself that the toe will not get any closer to the wall, and also will not really go inside much at all and may well go perfectly straight along the baseboard with the toe staying exactly 1/2 inch away at all points in the backstroke. Another training drill is to set down a ball, setup to it, and then place a second ball straight back from the putterhead's sweetspot about 1.5 to 2 feet. Then make the initial move and the putter's sweetspot should back straight away and hit the back ball straight on a line. You can elaborate on this with a third ball even further back on the same line, so that the takeaway move knocks the second ball and rolls it straight into the third ball.

THE GRAVITY-TEMPO DOWNSTROKE IS EFFORTLESS. Once the top of the backstroke is reached, just relax so the shoulderframe sinks back to level. The hands in all this remain inert with the preestablished grip pressure unchanging. There is no rotation of the hands, no manipulation of the hands, and this means the thumbs stay flat on the putter handle in the same plane at all times and that the hands stay the same distance from a plane across the thighs at all times -- regardless of backstroke length. The feeling is a little odd, as if there is a slight curling away from the body as the hands go to the top back, and then drop down again to the bottom, and a slight curling away from the body going forward, but this is illusory. That is because the "usual" body action keeps the hands close to the hips, and a straight stroke powered by a shoulder rock feels as if it extends the hands away from the hips a bit. You can feel this by setting up over a yardstick and starting back with the shoulder move. You do not have to actually extend the arms or wrist or otherwise do anything with the hands to keep the putterhead straight back along the yardstick, but you do have to move the blooming shoulder straight down at the balls of the feet and ignore how the hands and arms feel a bit extended. The odd feeling is correct. Just focus on the shoulders and ignore the arms and hands.

KEEP THE HANDS QUIET OR "DEAD" IN THE DOWNSTROKE. The dropping of the shoulders is natural enough and just retraces the shoulder rock, this time coming down. You will need to wait patiently as the stroke falls on its own. If you hurry down, your hands will become active and the face and path of the stroke will get altered into a pull or a push. So just leave the hands out of the fall and be patient. My thought is that the hands are like golf gloves filled with wet heavy sand. The hands stay low and don't do a thing except keep the same grip pressure and hope nothing happens, and there is no new feeling as you "ride the putter" down.

THE HANDS STAY AS FAR OUT AS THEY START. The hands also do not move farther away or closer to a plane across the thighs. This is a bit odd, because the "usual" feeling is that the hands move back or forward in an arc close always the same distance from the hips. The straight putting stroke, however, has the shoulder lifting so that the elbow gets lagged apart from the hip going back or forward. The "feel" of this is like the hands are being extended away from your stance the longer the backstroke or the thru-stroke. Just keep the hands inert and ignore the feeling, so long as the shoulders lag the elbows down the line (parallel left above the balls of the feet). 

THE HANDS DO NOT ROTATE AND THE GRIP PRESSURE STAYS CONSTANT. In the backstroke, the hands will want to rotate only when the hands move faster than the shoulder rock. If the hands are moving independently of the shoulders, the forearms will rotate the hands "open" going back or "closed" going forward. The cure is to keep the hands inert, and turn the "triangle" as a unit. This keeps the butt of the handle constantly aimed into the sternum throughout the stroke. Also, the notion of aiming the thumbs straight down the shaft at address and keeping them aimed down this way without turning prevents the putterface from fanning in the stroke.

LIFTING THE SHOULDERS SENDS THE BALL STRAIGHT. Finishing the stroke is catching the speed pattern of the putter downward and then starting the lifting action in the shoulder rock right at the bottom, with the pivot in the base of the neck staying still. The line across the shoulders turns with the shaft of the putter to keep the butt of the putter aimed at the sternum. The lead shoulder socket has to go vertically up. If the action is continued until the shaft of the putter is parallel to the ground, the putterface would aim straight up in the sky. The "normal" and "feel-good" motion is for the lead shoulder to curl back around, with the hands turning inward towards the lead hip, and the uplifting of the shoulderframe is artificial and must be practiced.

Once you get the feel of the shoulder socket lagging the whole heavy left arm and hand straight up from the foot as the putterhead rises into the back of the ball, you will feel an extremely smooth and solid impact of the lower half of the putterface as the sweetspot lifts on a slightly upward path from the back of the ball thru the center and out the front of the ball, entering the back about one dimple below the equator and coming out the front of the ball about one dimple high of the equator. The ball will not jump or hop off the face, but will make a very pleasing "pock" sound and roll smoothly straight off the face, over the "T" point.

. Yes, aiming can be taught. If you stick a tee peg in a green for a straight and level putt, say 15 feet away, the routine series of physical movements to aim along the line from ball to target and then to set the putterface square down that line is fairly straightforward, but the execution can be subtle. There are two separate aiming processes (one from behind the ball to placing the face behind the ball, plus a final checking the face aim from beside the ball), and these two processes both need to agree for you to get a "go" signal for pulling the trigger with a straight stroke.

STAND BACK THE SAME DISTANCE AS THE PUTT LENGTH. First, stand behind the ball the same distance as the distance from ball to target. This gives you multiple doses of the distance of your putt without you having to think about it.

USE ONLY THE DOMINANT EYE TO SIGHT THE LINE FROM BALL TO TARGET. Position your dominant eye on a projection of the "line" back to you, with your torso and face directed straight into the line and with good posture and a straight gaze out of the face. If you are right-eye dominant, your right eye and right lung is "on" the line, not your nose; if left-eye dominant, your left pupil and heart are "on" the line. Actually, I think of a vertical plane rising up from the line so that my dominant eye is "in" this plane of the puttline and my torso is squared to this plane.  

USE THE PUTTER SHAFT AS A VISUAL RULER TO LINE UP THE BALL AND TARGET AND SHOW YOU THE ACTUAL GRASS BLADES OF THE LINE. You can then raise your putter shaft to use it as a visual ruler and connect the center of the ball with the center of the target along one edge of the shaft and look along this line with your dominant eye. The ruler will show you the exact back of the ball to square the face up to, the orientation of any writing on the ball in relation to this back of the ball, the orientation of any shadow behind the ball, and all blades of grass behind and in front of the ball exactly on the line.  

ANCHOR YOUR TRANSIENT PERCEPTIONS ON THE GROUND TO PRESERVE THE SENSE OF LINE WHEN YOU START WALKING TO THE BALL. Use these reference points on the ball and ground to "fix" or "anchor" the location of the "line" that you now accurately perceive from this perspective behind the ball. Once you start walking to the ball to place the putterhead, you will lose the sense of the line's location without these anchors.  

WALK THE LINE TO KEEP THE PERSPECTIVE THRU THE BACK OF THE BALL. Remember that the back of the ball is only the back of the ball as seen from this specific perspective. If you shift off the line to look towards the ball, you will see an entirely different "back" of the ball, and it will be incorrect. I think of looking at the back of the ball as looking at a dartboard hanging on a wall, so I realize that even if I move off the line and change my perspective, the wall will stay perpendicular to the original line of sight. Another way to think of this is that the "ball" is actually a sleeve box with the long part of the shape aimed straight at the target. Then, when you start to walk to the ball, walk straight along the line into the back of the ball without altering the perspective, and keep the anchor points in mind. You can also walk into the ball while still keeping the ball and target connected by the visual ruler if you like.  

POSITION THE PUTTERFACE IN LIGHT OF YOUR ANCHORS. Once behind the ball, then you have to reconstruct where to place the putterface so it aims directly thru the center of the ball in the only acceptable direction -- straight thru the center of the ball at the target. This is where the anchors and the manner of approaching the ball pay off.  

THE BALL ITSELF SHOWS THE LINE OF YOUR PUTT. If you have steadily identified the exact back of the ball, this point on the back equator necessarily defines a "line" thru the ball, from this back point thru the center of the ball. This "line" continues out the front equator of the ball, exiting the ball right where the round edge of the ball is closest to the target. This "line" thru the center of the ball MUST coincide with the line from ball to target (the puttline). The putterface is then squared to this line thru the ball, which square the putterface to the target also. To square the putterface thru the line of the ball, the sweetspot of the putter has to be positioned on the back center of the ball and ALSO the face has to be rotated until the face is flush to the line thru the ball.

THE PUTTERFACE IS SQUARED IN TWO SENSES -- SWEETSPOT AND PERPENDICULARITY OF FACE TO LINE. There are two separate aspects to squaring the face thru the ball (sweetspot and line of ball perpendicular to face). Of these two, the perpendicularity or squareness of the face is more important for the line of the putt, but having the sweetspot of the putter moving thru the sweetspot of the ball is more important for distance. 

MOVE TO THE SIDE AND ADOPT THE SETUP WITHOUT ALTERING THE PUTTERFACE ORIENTATION. Once the face is squared thru the center of the ball in this fashion, the first of two separate aiming processes is complete. Leave the putterface orientation alone as you step around to the side of the ball for the second aiming process. With the face aimed, then adopt your setup by bringing the body and hands to the putter and squaring the setup to the face of the putter and it's only straight puttline. 

SQUARING THE SKULL HORIZON LINE TO THE PUTTERFACE. In setting the gaze to the putterface, you want to a) look straight out of the face, and b) make the "horizon line" across both eyes match the intended putt line thru the ball straight perpendicularly away from the putterface.  This "skull line" is a line across the bones of the head that includes the tops of the ears, the temples, the outside corners of the eye sockets, the inside corners of the eye sockets, and the bridge of the nose (9 points). When the gaze of the eyeballs is also directed straight out of the face, this skull line then also includes the two pupils (11 points in a line). You carry this "skull line" with you everywhere, everyday, so use it playing golf.

The "horizon line" across both eyes is how the bones of the head are oriented when you are standing with upright posture on a seashore gazing out to sea -- the horizon line of the far ocean is a level line right across your two pupils and the bridge of your nose, and also crosses the inside corners of your eye sockets, just above the outside corners of the eye sockets, and just above both ears. If you held the shaft up so that it matched the sea horizon, the shaft would also match the "horizon line" across these features of your facial bones and your pupils. You carry this "eye line" wherever your face is aimed.  

So when you look straight out the face down at the ball, this "eye line" should perfectly match the putt line thru the center of the ball, and should be perpendicular thru the putterface. With this eye line, you are in a perfect position to assess whether the putterface is truly squarely aimed down the puttline and also you are in a perfect position to turn the head as described above for TOUCH TARGETING, but this time your head turn will also show you WHERE YOUR PUTTERFACE and SETUP is actually AIMED. The eye line plus a straight gaze out of the face lets you "square up" the head and eyes first, and then the shoulders are squared to the putterface using the orientation of your head-neck-face to the putterface.  

HEAD-TURN TO CHECK ALIGNMENT OF THE PUTTERFACE. Setting the eye line to the puttline allows you to use a side-on head turn that moves the line of sight in a straight line along the ground straight away from the putterface. In this fashion, you can assess just exactly where your putterface is really aiming and see that your setup and putterface aim is good to go. For this to be done correctly, you have to know that your gaze is directed straight out of your face, that your eye line is perpendicular to the face of the putter so it runs true to the aim of the face, and that your head turn is accomplished with the axis of rotation steady and the top of your head kept in one point in space as the turn progresses. Then you just turn without anticipating where your line of sight ends up, and wait to see if your sight ends up pointing right at the target. If yes, you're good to go. If not, you have some unresolved aiming conflict between aiming from behind the ball, aiming the face thru the ball, and checking the face aim from beside the ball. You will have to try again, either just the side-on check, or adjust the face and resettle the feet and try the side-on check anew, or recycle to back behind the ball and start over -- your choice.

Once you have a "go" signal, you are square in aim and setup and should simply putt straight, sending the ball over the "T". The nice part is that once you have finished aiming at the target, you can go brain-dead and forget about the target entirely. Just make the same-everytime stroke. The TOUCH will be there by virtue of the TARGETING you've already done and the backstroke length just happens naturally. So just putt straight, with happy feet.

1. STEP. PICKING A TARGET TO AIM AT BY READING THE PUTT. Green reading is not the same as putt reading. Green reading is assessing the overall situating of the green in the lay of the surrounding terrain, to see how the green as a whole fits into the drainage pattern of the land.

READ FROM THE FAIRWAY. This sort of assessment is best done from the fairway from 100 to 150 yards out. The general pattern of drainage always heads to the lowest area, both locally and at a distant remove. So greens generally are situated to drain in the same direction as lakes, ponds, and streams, or thru local ditches or runoff valleys towards distant water (e.g., the sea).  

LOCAL HILLS AND MOUNTAINS CAN CONFUSE THE SCENERY. The presence of prominent hills or mountains may confuse the impression of this drainage pattern, especially if the green is not actually continuous with the downward sloping of the most prominent hill, but simply near it as part of a smaller hill.  

USE REFERENCES TO VERTICAL OR HORIZONTAL. The use of references to true vertical (radio antennae, tall buildings or chimneys, or even your club shaft held like a plumb line, but not usually trees or even the flagstick) or true horizontals (ponds and lakes) is helpful, but ultimately you need to rely upon your sense of balance, the sense of upright, your visual sense of level, and your sense of where the zenith of the sky is located. By assessing the green as a whole in this fashion, you can identify the highest and lowest points on the green, and this will give you a starting point for reading putts. 

READ THE STOCK CHART OF THE HIGH FRINGE. As you approach nearer to the green, you can go to the lowest point and look up into the green to find the highest point. From here, the back fringe "read" from left to right like a stock chart will indicate the highest point. The "fall line" of major drainage flow down the green ought to follow this "fall line."  

BEWARE OF LOBED GREENS WITH CATCHMENT BASINS. Greens today are sometimes designed with lobes, and these lobes might drain separately, seemingly away from the overall drainage pattern of the terrain. But this is partly illusion. In such cases, the lobe drains to a local catchments basin, where the water is collected in a drain grate and re-routed by pipes back into the dominant flow of the local terrain. 

ASSESS OVERALL SLOPE AS RISE OVER RUN. Also, from this vantage point looking up into the green, you can assess the overall slope of the green. In order to drain properly so the turf grass prospers, greens have underground drainage pipes that have to be tilted downhill at least 1 or 2 percent. Slope is either expressed as an angle in degrees or as a percentage of rise over run. Normally, green slope is expressed as a percentage. For example, if the green runs 100 feet from low to high, and rises over that distance by 3 feet, the slope is 3 percent. If you squatted at the low point and rested your putter upright in front of you, and looked level across the top of the handle like a surveyor, you should site the top fringe 100 feet away. That's because the putter is about 3 feet in length. A 2 percent slope shows the top fringe only two feet high up the shaft. If the "run" of the green from low to high is only 50 feet long, then the level up the shaft would be halved (1.5 feet up the shaft is 3 percent; 1 foot up the shaft is 2 percent). Typical slopes are between 2 to 5 percent. Above 5 percent, the green speed may be too slick for the ball to come to a stop on the slope. So severe slope sets a limit on how fast the green speed can be set. 

Greens seldom slope away from the fairway, as this makes holding the approach shots too difficult. Usually, the green is canted into the fairway, so the low point is most frequently near the approach collar. 

All of "green" reading simply gets you in the proper context to read a specific putt. 

PUTT READING STARTS WITH THE FALL LINE THRU THE HOLE. Putt reading starts with the hole's location. At every location on the surface of a green, there is a separate "local" fall line. When a cup is located on the green at one of these locations, the local fall line runs thru the cup and defines putts that are straight uphill and putts that are straight downhill. The fall line crosses the lip of the hole thru its lowest point and thru its highest point (and passes thru the center of the cup). Gravity pulls uphill putts in toward the fall line and pulls downhill putts to run parallel to the fall line. 

READ PUTTS BACK OUT OF THE HOLE FOR TERMINAL SPEED PATTERN TO INDICATE BREAK SHAPE. Putt reading is really knowing how fast the ball will be rolling at different points along the way into the hole. The only thing you will really know for sure is that, because of your TOUCH, all putts will always slow down near the hole in exactly the same way and enter the cup with the same terminal speed (about 2 revolutions per second over the lip). Because of this, you best can read the shape of the curve of a breaking putt BACKWARDS out of the hole like a movie in reverse. Tracking the ball back out of the hole this way shows you how the surface contour will define the exact entry point into the cup and the critical shape of the path over the last two or three feet of the curve. With this key part of the break established, you can smoothly extend the curve back towards the ball until it effectively straightens out and runs straight to the ball at your feet.  

FIND THE STRAIGHT START LINE FOR THE CURVING PUTT PATH. When this putt path returns to the ball, it has to come squarely into the face aim. If it does, then you will start the ball off straight from the face every single time, start the ball off high enough to stay on the upper side of the "hump" of the break as the path curves into the cup, and aim higher than the "apex" of the path.  

THE "APEX" IS TOO LOW AS AN AIM POINT FOR THE START LINE. The "apex" is where the curve of the putt is farthest above a direct line from ball to hole. You cannot aim at the "apex", contrary to what thousands of golfers advise, because this is where the path of the ball is changing and gets parallel to the direct line from ball to hole. Your start line cannot "parallel" the base line from ball to hole, and has to be aimed higher up from the base line. Consequently, you have to always aim higher than the "apex".  

USE AN AIM SPOT THAT IS ON THE FALL LINE OR PERHAPS EVEN WITH THE HOLE FROM YOUR PERSPECTIVE. The correct start line is always the same as when the path coming back to the ball at your feet finally straightens out. Extending this start line over the back of the hump until it reaches a point hole high (this is often on the fall line), you can use that point as the aim spot for targeting both line and distance. Aim the face there, setup square to the face, and putt straight at this point with good touch, and let the breaking of the ball into the cup take care of itself.

SEE THE SPIDER AT ANY LOCATION ON THE GREEN. Because of the above, any location on the green can be seen as a hole location that has the look of a "spider."  The spider body is the hole, and the spider head is on the fall line a certain distance uphill from the center of the hole (usually but not always outside the upper lip, but sometimes inside the hole). By using the head of the spider as an aim point, you can simplify all breaking putts to one aim spot.

To find out how far up the fall line the head of the spider is located, assess the length of your putt and then walk to a location on the axis of tilt that same distance. The axis of tilt is perpendicular to the fall line, so this location is a side-on putt. Imagine putting straight at the center of the hole with your usual great touch, knowing that the ball will curl downhill. Then assess mentally just where this imaginary "straight" side-on putt would cross the fall line below the hole. That distance -- from the crossing point low to the center of the hole -- indicates how high up the fall line to locate the head of the spider as an aim spot. For ANY putt at this hole on a circle with the diameter of your putt length, the same head of the spider is the aim spot for the start line, making all breaking putts straight. 

As the length of the putt increases, the head of the spider moves farther uphill from the center of the hole, but not as much as you might imagine.

The "spider" approach to finding an aim point for a breaking putt is limited by the assumption that the green surface around the hole and between your ball and the hole is flat but tilted. If there is intervening undulations between the ball and the hole (or just significant contour changes away from flatness), this approach may not be appropriate. Thankfully, the guidelines for hole placement generally result in the area immediately around the hole being flatish and not too severe in slope, so the spider system often works very well. 

Another caveat is that the spider approach to finding an aim spot is not as accurate as reading the putt backwards out of the hole to see the final 2 or 3 feet of the path. Consequently, the spider should be used only as a “ball park” approach, and then graduate to reading the putt backwards out of the hole. If the two methods agree, fine and dandy; but if there is a conflict, the "backwards" method is the one to trust. 


With good instinctive touch as the basis for putting, a simple approach to finding an aim spot as a target for both line and distance, aiming the putterface and body at the target, and then putting straight away from the putterface and straight out of the setup with good touch is about as simple as it gets. This makes putting very intuitive, instinctive, and simple -- not a lot of mental baggage when the pressure is on, more fun, and a higher level of play.


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, or email him directly at

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