What does ‘grain’ and ‘break’ of a green mean?
When golfers talk about the grain of a green they are referring to the texture the grass makes by the direction it’s leaning.
The break is the direction the green will try and pull your golf ball. Break is mostly influenced by the grain and topography of the green.
For example, if you’re putting on a completely flat green and hit it perfectly straight (ha!) and the green has a grain that pulls your golf ball to the right, your ball will go right. That section of the green would be known as ‘breaking to the right’. To compensate for this break, an experienced golfer would hit his ball a little to the left.
What affects the grain of a green?
The main thing affecting the grain is the direction the grass has been cut. Most golf courses trim their greens from a different direction every day to keep the grain even. If the golf course cuts their grass in one direction every day it will start to grow in a distinct pattern, leaning to the side and pulling golf balls in that direction.
Sometimes grass is groomed to intentionally lay the grain in a certain direction. This might be done to make a green more challenging or to assist golfers on a trickier shots.
The grain of the green is also affected by the position of the sun in the sky. Blades of grass will reach towards the sun as it moves across the sky, so the grain might vary slightly throughout the day. Also keep an eye out for nearby water sources like ponds or creeks; the grain will usually run towards water.
Here are some tips to becoming a more consistent green reader and sinking more putts.
Tip number 1: Analyze the grain
Walk in a circle around the green until the grass behind your ball appears to be slightly lighter; you are now looking in the direction of the grain. When the grass looks darker you’re looking against the grain.
Putting with the grain means your ball will roll 25-30% faster. Putting against the grain will move your ball slower.
Tip number 2: Get a new perspective…Pace off Your Putt
Never hit the ball before you view your putt from the other side of the hole.
The ball moves so fast when you first hit it that the grain doesn’t have a chance to ‘grab’ it and pull it off course. The last 2/3 of your putt closest to the hole is what you really need to pay attention to.
By viewing your putt from the other side of the hole you’ll get a clearer idea of what those last few feet of the green look like.
Next time you get to the green, mark your ball and pace off your putt. Count your paces and multiply the number by three to calculate how many feet you are from the cup. Over time, you’ll develop a consistent feel for the length of stroke needed depending on the length of the putt.
Tip number 3: Take a Lap…Evaluate the Break
Once you’ve paced off your putt and arrived at the cup, take a few steps back keeping in line with your ball and have a look at the break. Imagine pouring your water bottle into the cup until it overflows. What direction (left or right) is the water going to spill out in? To the left? Great! Now you know what the break is doing within the last pace or two before the cup – this is physics, not rocket science.
Finally, walk to the low side of the putt (whichever direction the water flowed out) halfway between your ball and the cup and crouch down to get an idea of how severe or steep the slope is. This part is all about feel, which comes naturally with time and practice.
Now take a couple paces back from your ball and, with all the information you just gathered, get a feel for the break of your putt. Can you identify the apex (highest point) of the break? By now you should be confident in your read, but if not, take a quick walk back to the midway point between you and the cup. Stand over your line to get a better idea of the break while taking a couple strokes to get a feel for your speed.
Tip number 4: Pre-Stroke Routine
Stand next to your ball, lined up in the general direction of where you want your ball to start its line and take two practice strokes that replicate what you want your real stroke to feel like. Address your ball. Take one look down your line and all the way to the cup, seeing the ball go in. Take a second look down your line to the apex of the break and then down to the hole. Stroke your putt.
Tip number #5: Trust yourself
Take a quick look around, use your best judgement, and let your subconscious and muscle memory guide your swing. Trust that you will see all that needs to be seen. Have confidence in your decision by the time you hit the golf ball.
Don’t spend too much time over-analyzing your putting line or you’ll start to see things that don’t exist.