Since I named my website “Into The Grain” and I intend to publish pointers and tips, I thought a tip on putting the grainy greens of Florida would be a great place to start.
As if putting wasn’t hard enough already, anyone who plays golf in the Southeast is used to Bermuda grass greens, and putting with, against and across the grain. It took me about 2 years to figure out the grain on my home course when I first moved to Florida. There is no magic trick to putting well on grainy greens. You can get a general idea of which way the grass is growing, but you still have to guess how much it will affect a putt. There are a few tricks that can help you, but it takes time and practice to apply them effectively. The grain generally follows either the direction in which water drains off the green, or it grows towards the setting sun or a water source. On severe slopes it will grow towards the drainage path. The shiny/dark rule works also when looking at the grass on a golf course. Take a look at a putt standing both behind the ball and behind the hole. If the grass on the green looks “shiny” or is a lighter shade than the grass in the other direction, it means you are down grain and the putt will tend be faster and roll out a bit more. When the grass is growing away from you it reflects the light at a different angle than when it’s growing towards you, that’s why it looks different. If you see no change in color, take a look from either side, as you may have a cross grain putt. Cross grain putts are even more frustrating, because even if the slope of the green indicates that a putt will break slightly from left to right, the grain may hold it. Conversely, a right to left putt with right to left grain might break quite a bit more that it appears.
To help you learn the grain on greens, take your putter and drag it along the green in each direction. When it starts to hop and the grass pops up, you are going against the grain. Keep in mind, that doing this is against the rules! (see rule 16-1d) Do this only in a practice round or better yet, on the practice green!
Another way you can combat the grain, especially on shorter putts, is to roll your ball with more speed. This is good practice for all greens, regardless of grain. The theory behind that is that the faster the ball is rolling, the more it skims the tops of the grass blades on the surface. As the ball slows down, gravity takes over and the ball settles slightly lower into the grass and the direction in which it grows is more likely to influence the ball’s direction. Therefore, on the shorter putts especially, roll the ball with more speed and reduce the amount of break you play to counteract the effect of grain. Most pros and scratch golfers do this anyway since they have putting strokes that consistently roll the ball on target. This allows players to eliminate most or all of the break on shorter putts of 5 feet or less and aim right at the hole. You see the pros do this on television all the time, that’s why the ball rolls 2 or 3 feet by when they occasionally miss a short one. The average player is left with a tap in putt when they miss a short one, because they tend to decelerate and hit the short putts too soft.
So to review, check the grain of the putt by the shade or the grass, hit your short putts harder with less break, and you should see your scores drop. Eliminating just a few strokes because of missed putts can make a big difference in your handicap! Hope this tip helps, and we’ll see you next time.