Do Tour Pros read the greens by eye? Not if they want to win. For the entire history of the game of golf, reading the greens has been the most mysterious aspect of the game. Some say it's an innate ability, others say it's a skill that can be learned. Some say that certain PGA Tour Pros are great green readers while others are not. I say those ideas are myths and that there's only one way to read a green accurately, measure it and chart it. The Tour Pros know this and have been measuring greens for years.
Do Tour Pros read the greens by eye? Not if they want to win. For the entire history of the game of golf, reading the greens has been the most mysterious aspect of the game. Some say it's an innate ability, others say it's a skill that can be learned. Some say that certain PGA Tour Pros are great green readers while others are not. I say those ideas are myths and that there's only one way to read a green accurately, measure it and chart it.
Tour Pros know this and have been measuring greens for years. What I learned from these golf professionals is that average golfers are not alone in having a hard time reading greens - every golfer has a hard time reading greens. This is especially true for the Pros, because for Tour Pros the issue isn't just about making a putt, it's about making money by making a putt.
Because of my research, I have also done something that as near as I can figure has never been done before in the 200+ year history of golf - I applied some basic science to reading greens. To be specific... I measured greens and mapped them in a Greens Book.
All of this led me to a basic conclusion: green reading by eye and any of the other senses is basically a flawed proposition.
Let's compare it to distance measuring. Golfers don't measure distance to the green just by eyeballing it. No, golfers rely on yardage markers or measurements on sprinkler heads, and, more recently, laser range finders or GPS devices. Now if we use such measuring tools for judging distance, why would we rely on our eyes and other physical senses to measure something as critical as the slope on a green?
The answer is... we shouldn't. After all, if you hit every green in regulation, 50% of your strokes are still going to be on the green. If you can improve your putting by improving your green reading, wouldn't you improve your score? Of course you would.
And nobody knows this better than PGA Tour Pros.
For years, Tour Pros have had their Caddies go out on the greens before tournaments and roll golf balls on the green to figure out how they break. Then, they made Greens Maps in a Yardage Book that gave them an idea of how greens break near the expected hole positions. During practice rounds and the tournament, Pros and their Caddies consult these Greens Maps (this is, of course, legal) to decide how to adjust the aim line of their putt to compensate for the break. Up until recently, the Greens Maps have been fairly crude (like the one on the left).
But they were at least some indication (by proven tests - rolling golf balls) of how the greens would break. More recently, Caddies would measure slope on the greens with a tool called a Smart Level. This was a good next step in green reading, but Smart Levels only show the break in one direction - you have to turn them a number of different ways to find the exact break direction, and that's not easy. Also because Smart Levels are designed for carpentry, not golf, they are quite cumbersome to carry around on the golf course.
The BreakMaster Digital Green Reader was immediately accepted by Tour Pros as a putting aid. Because it was designed for golfers, it is also very convenient to take on the golf course. The BreakMaster shows the two most critical factors of the break: the Break Direction (the downhill direction, or fall line) and the Break Amount (severity of the downhill slope) which we measure in degrees.
Tour Pros and Tour Caddies understood the concept immediately. For the first time in golf history, they had an accurate means of measuring the break. Now their Greens Maps are more sophisticated - and a whole lot more accurate. If you look at a Tour Pro's Greens Map (on the left -- used by PGA Tour Pros at a recent PGA Tournament) you'll see that the break on the green is far more complicated than you may have assumed.
The break can change (in direction and in amount) quite a bit over the entirety of the green. That’s why the idea of Tour Pros reading greens by eye is not only a myth, but would be downright foolish. In fact, there are many break directions and amounts of break on a green. Each one can affect the roll of a putt, and each one can be accurately measured and mapped. By understanding the break in this manner, you can really improve your putting.
Well, yes and no. No, it's not currently legal to use a measuring device like the BreakMaster during tournament competition (but remember that, until a couple of years ago, it was not legal to use a GPS device or laser ranger finder, either). But it is certainly legal to use the BreakMaster during a practice round and make notes on a Greens Chart - and this is exactly what the Pros do. I know, you're saying, "But what about when I see Pros walking around the green, or crouching down and looking at the hole before they putt?" To this I say that the Pros are really only visually reassuring themselves of what their research (their Caddies measuring and mapping the greens before the tournament) has already shown them. Here's a published quote from someone you've probably heard of...
"My caddie, Stevie Williams, and I have charted the greens on every course we've played. That knowledge is essential to a tour player because we basically play the same courses every year. I recommend similar due diligence for you on courses you play a lot. Take notes on hole locations, paying attention to breaks and direction of grain. You'll be more comfortable on the greens -- and make more putts."
Tiger Woods, "Lesson Tee," Golf Digest, April 2008
So now you understand the myth that PGA Tour Pros read greens by using their senses. There is really only one way to read greens and do it accurately - measure them with the BreakMaster. Anything else is just guessing -- and guessing is usually wrong. At BreakMaster we have a word for wrong guesses on the green - strokes.