Thursday, June 12, 2008

Putting on Unfamiliar Greens

By the time you read this we will have crowned a new United States Open Champion. I write these columns a week prior to publication so I don’t know the winner, but I can tell you with certainty he had a great week putting. He will have conquered green speeds and conditions that he may only find once or twice in a season. The Masters and Memorial tournaments are the only two this season that compare to the Open.
Over the course of a summer almost all of us will have the opportunity to play a golf course we haven’t played before. The hardest part of this round or rounds will be how you handle the different greens. The following are just a few hopefully helpful hints to handle new circumstances.
To predict the direction a putt will roll on a green you have never played before is as difficult a task as there is in golf. First, don’t be too hard on yourself. Very few players are able to judge the break in a putt the first time they play a hole. The tour players don’t read greens as much as they memorize them. Practice rounds are spent learning how a ball breaks front to back and side to side. With this information in hand when we see them on TV they are not reading the green as much as verifying information.
For those of us who don’t have that luxury, we have to do what we can with the information available. Take a look at the surrounding topography. If it is generally flat then play less break than you think you see. On hilly or uneven terrain it is a good idea to play more break .
Look at the color of the grass. Lighter color is usually a sign of higher ground, brighter green a sign of where the water drains (downhill). This is especially true during the heat of the summer.
Walk around on the green as much as proper etiquette will allow. You can fell the change in undulation with your feet. This is especially true if you close your eyes, but needless to say, this is not the most practical advice. However, looking at a putt from all sides is not as much about what you see as what you feel.
Finally, don’t be afraid to be a little aggressive. With an aggressive stroke, I can play less break, making the reads easier. The straighter line also increases the chance of making a couple long ones. Finally, I can see the break of the next putt as the ball goes past the hole, making the second putts easier.

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