Mar 06

Reading the Green-Science and Art

Green Reading Perplexing?

My wife tells me that I should not become too overly-invested in having Paula Creamer give me a lag putt lesson this Christmas, as Ms. Creamer probably has other plans for the holidays. I asked about my birthday this spring, and got the same answer. That dream being dashed, she suggested that I be more proactive, and put more time in studying the art of reading greens, and since she is usually right, I agreed.

putt 1What I have found, of course, is an enormous body of information on the subject, written by various club and touring pros. A lot of it was already familiar to me, except that I never remember to do it on the course, or the prospect of slow play forbids it. I’m sure that the tour guys pick up the necessary information a lot faster than I do when lining up a putt. Familiar or not, I was reminded of how utterly undisciplined we amateurs can be in the shortest, and sometimes costliest, part of the game.

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Somewhere in my mind, I knew that a light sheen meant I was putting against the grain, and that a dark one meant I was putting with it. The idea that a green set high in the area where a breeze comes through probably means a faster putt? Had no idea, no clue. They tell us to sense the firmness and crunchiness of the green when we first walk on it, and I never got around to doing that much. I did try to tie the green into the prevailing climate, but nothing so specific. Subconsciously, I must have approximated it, though. It makes too much sense.


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putt 2The idea that the grass leans to a body of water, like the ocean, or leans toward the mountains? I guess the slope and water would fall from the heights like that. To see which side of the cup the grass is growing over? The course I usually play won’t let you get around that. After they mow the green, I think somebody visits all eighteen greens with a pair of barber scissors and gives the surrounding grain a crew cut.

Grain mostly affects a slow-moving ball, and in any dry climate, I’m a natural lagger, not truly believing in the putting line I’ve chosen, any more than I believe I’ll win the lottery next week (I’ll try to improve in that regard, but that’s another story). As for being a spot putter, choosing a target other than the hole, and preferably on the way to the hole, why would I have any more confidence in that than I do in the place where the flag usually sits? Perhaps a closer spot, one situated in a crucial part of the break improves one’s odds – how would I know?

The prevailing opinion seems to be that when lining up a putt, get as low to the ground as you can. At my age, with my knees feeling the way they sometimes do, that could get me a ride to the hospital where I could be unfolded by medical professionals. Looking at the putt from the low side is fine. One author tells me I had enough balance to walk on the green without falling over, so I should have enough sense to tell the low from the high side. I’ll be sure to try that next time.

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putt 3 The guys who know assure me that I should get far away from the ball so that I can see the putt in its larger perspective – how like life, provided I don’t get so far away  that I can’t see the ball, the break, the hole, or my playing partners. Bifocals or trifocals, blended lenses included, are just as detrimental to a putt of any length as a gnarled putter bought out of barrel at a yard sale.

Daunting as all this might be, I am determined to improve my green-reading, inspired by Paula’s tournament winning miracle putt of last week, and already managing the disappointment that she will not be around this December to explain it to me personally.

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I am left with the thought that putting is like the pursuit of excellence in many other things. You’ve just driven 250, hit a medium to long iron (or a daring three-wood), and chipped on to a reasonable distance from the hole, but to be truly excellent, you have to master this smaller, more geographically precise, finessed, small-muscle task before joining the elite percentage in this game. If you reached this par 5 in three or four, you’re reasonably proficient, but now we need to prove our mettle at another level. If we made just a handful of these putts per round, or avoided just a handful of three or four-putts, how different our scorecards would look – and Paula knows exactly what I’m talking about.

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