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How to read the grain (and make more putts)

Posted by Mike Gottfried on

If you play golf anywhere in the southern United States, it’s more likely than not that you have encountered bermudagrass greens. Whether you know it or not, a golf ball rolling on bermuda behaves very differently than a ball rolling on other types of grass, like bent or paspalum. This is because bermudagrass typically grows at an angle, usually with the slope and toward the afternoon sun, while other types of grass grow more straight up and down. Because of the angle of the growth of bermudagrass, putters need to account for the effect that this has on a rolling golf ball. 

The direction the grass grows is known as the grain. A ball rolling with the grain rolls faster, while a ball rolling against the grain rolls slower.

While reading the grain can seem confusing or intimidating, it is really quite simple, and reading and interpreting the grain properly can significantly help your putting. We’ll cover four things to look for when reading the grain, including a surefire way to read it on short putts.

“Go West young ball”

The first thing to know is that bermudagrass typically grows in the direction of the afternoon sun. If you know which way is West, this is your first clue as to the direction of the grain. If you don’t know which way is West, a quick trick is to look at the shadow of the flagstick. If you are playing in the morning, West is going to be the direction of the pin’s shadow. If you are playing in the afternoon, West is going to be the opposite direction of the flag’s shadow. On a flat green, the grain should generally be to the West and the ball will roll faster in this direction.

“Where the water flows, the ball will go”

The second tip in reading the grain is to understand that bermudagrass generally grows with the downhill slope. This rule generally overrides the grass growing to the West, so if a green is particularly hilly, edge toward an uphill putt being slower than usual, and a downhill putt being faster than usual.

Look for the shine

If you’ve ever looked at a bermuda green and thought that certain spots on the green look “shiny”, it’s because you are looking at the direction of the grain. Standing over your putt, if a patch of grass looks shiny, it is down grain (faster) and if it is dark, it is into the grain (slower).

The cheat code: just look at the cup

The simplest way to read the grain, particularly on short putts, is to look at the cup. On a bermudagrass green, one side of the cup will look rough and brown. This is the direction of the grain, and in general, your putt will break more in this direction.

Factoring the grain into your putt

Once you have read the grain, you can now factor it into how your putt is going to roll. First, go ahead and read the putt without considering the grain. Now that you’ve got your line, consider the grain, and what it is going to do. A general rule is to add about 25% more break or speed to a putt once you’ve factored in the direction of the grain. If your putt is straight, but the grain left-to-right, consider putting it on the left edge as the grain will pull the ball back to the right. 

This will vary from course to course and even day-to-day, so get out on the practice green before your round to get a feel for the grain and how it will affect the movement of your putts!

Stay tuned for more tips and tricks from Piper Golf.

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