Think long, think wrong. Not a bad concept for putting. Most of what you see as you walk up to the green and eyeball your pending putt is what you’ll see when you throw down Camillo “Spiderman” Villegas style behind the ball anyway. Grain, growth, stimpmeter, direction, sleep deprivation, they all play a part in how the ball will react on it’s way home but, let’s face it, how many of us hit the line and speed we intended most of the time anyway.
A world of information is available about putting and most is aimed at the mechanical side of stroking a putt, not reading the green to begin with. The grain of grass and slope of the surface are your primary concerns. Grain can be read at the cup by looking at the way it lays over the lip. The straggly looking blades have been pulled up by the mower and indicate its grain destination rather than origination, so read it as growing towards them. Grain will affect a putt whether it’s into the grain to slow it down, with the grain to speed it up or across the grain to influence the break. Take some time to familiarize yourself with the greens prior to a round and try to realize the grains effect from every angle. Normally this can be accomplished by putting in the four to eight foot range from every angle.
Reading slope requires patience and practice. Speed influences the amount of break a ball will have on any given sloping putt. Set yourself up on a gentle slope and putt three balls at the hole, one with the minimum amount of speed needed to die in the cup, one that will run past the cup eight to ten inches and one that will run past about two feet. Each speed will require a different amount of break, less for faster putts and more for slower. The middle putt is the ideal in most situations and should be the focus of speed and slope during the course of a round.
If you watch a PGA golf tournament on television or see one in person you will quickly find there isn’t a set way all professionals read the greens. It is most definitely an art form with emphasis placed on dedicated practice and situational exposure. Keep your cool, trust your instincts, go with your first inclination and most of the time your ball won’t bounce off a spike mark while it’s rolling dead center in the heart. You’ve never learned anything in your life that was difficult without a tremendous amount of training and practice, and reading a green is no exception.