A common request at the United States Golf Academy is for help on reading greens. It is a difficult conversation to have because the decision of choosing a line for a putt is such a subjective decision or group of decisions. My perception of how the ball will travel along the green might be totally different than yours and so any methods I use for myself may be of no help to you at all. However there are some general skills and advice that I can offer so you can develop your own strategy on the greens.
Observe the big picture. This is the key to being a good green reader. When deciding on how the putt will roll be sure to look at your surroundings. Too many of us stare at the hole and a narrow path between the ball and the hole. The best green readers take in their surroundings first, looking at the entire green and the topography around them. Our Director of Golf likes to say that reading a putt begins immediately after you hit your approach. Look at how the green sits into the landscape, it will tell you a lot about the direction the ball will move, before you ever reach the green. Once you get to the green you can look for more specific influences, but remember you have to move a lot of dirt to change the basic tilt of a green so don’t forget your first impression once you get to the green.
Be aggressive. An aggressive putter has an easier time reading greens than the player who tries to die the ball at the hole. An aggressive putt will break less so you can take a more direct approach. Second, if you miss you will get a look at what the comeback putt will do as the ball rolls past. Third, while you run the risk of an occasional 3 putt because of the aggressive approach, you will also make more putts. The important thing is even if you do run the ball past, stay aggressive. Take the break out with speed is usually good advice.
Finally, don’t be too hard on yourself. Reading a green is a prediction and you will never be sure what the ball will do until the putt is struck. Once you make a decision then do your best to start the ball on the line you have chosen and accept the results. If you are observant and aggressive the results might surprise you.