Yet despite the importance of green reading, there is perhaps no other aspects of golf as bogged down by myth, confusing advice and flat out bad information. Adages thrown around such as putts breaking toward water, the sun, low points of the course, "valley effects", etc. range from being misleading to being flat out bad advice.
A much simpler way to read greens is to assess the "fall line" of the green first, and then use that information to read your putt. Professional golfers know this, and will carry notes in their yardage books of where the fall line is for different hole locations. Yet, while the fall line is an incredibly simple concept to understand, very few amateurs are aware of it.
Let me explain what the fall line is, and how knowing what it is will help you improve your green reading.
Imagine a ramp, higher on one side and lower on the other.
On putting greens, the area around the hole for most hole locations
is usually consistently sloped, like our original drawing of the ramp.
Since the ramp/green around the hole is sloped at a consistent angle, if we
measured the slope several times, it would be running in the same direction each time .
The dotted line shown running straight through the center of the hole is the fall line.
I have rotated the green and super-imposed a clock over it.
The fall line is running from 12:00 - 6:00 on the clock.
From knowing this, we get a lot of information.
The putt from 12:00 is running straight down the fall line, and is a straight downhill putt.
The putt from 6:00 is running straight up the fall line, and is a straight uphill putt.
Putts above the center of the clock (between 9:00 - 3:00) are downhill.
Putts below the center of the clock (between 3:00 - 9:00) are uphill.
Any putt left of the center of the clock (between 6:00 and 12:00)
will be a "left to right" putt (LTR), breaking right.
Any putt right of the center of the clock (between 12:00 and 6:00)
will be a "right to left" putt (RTL), breaking left.
Putts from 9:00 and 3:00 are perfectly sidehill putts.
From 9:00 the putt will break maximally to the right.
From 3:00 the putt will break maximally to the left.
So from finding the fall line and orienting that line to be at 12:00 on an imaginary clock, we get a lot of information.
Putts from the 12:00 position are straight downhill, down the fall line
Putts between 12:00 and 3:00 are downhill and breaking left (Downhill RTL)
Putts from 3:00 will be the biggest breaking putts to the left (max RTL)
Putts between 3:00 and 6:00 are uphill and breaking left (Uphill RTL)
Putts from the 6:00 position are straight uphill, up the fall line
Putts between 6:00 and 9:00 are uphill and breaking right (Uphill LTR)
Putts from 9:00 will be the biggest breaking putts to the right (max LTR)
Putts between 9:00 and 12:00 are downhill and breaking right (Downhill LTR)
All together, it looks like this:
For all of these reasons, the first thing that you should do when you reading a green is identify the fall line.
Often, just the understanding of what the fall line is is enough to improve a player's green reading, but this skill can be taken to the next level with strategies to identify the fall line. I will post some strategies soon to help you become a true fall line detective!