Bad Break

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Frank,
Thank you for the weekly putting tips they are really starting to help my putting. This last week you discussed uphill vs. downhill breaking putts. I think that reading the green is sometimes difficult enough without the added problem of a downhill or uphill break. Please help me understand this phenomenon. Also I have a friend who I play with frequently who says that I should watch the ball as it passes the hole (that is if I miss it) and putt back along this same line. I don’t think he is right. Can you help me?

– Brian

Brian,

I am glad you are enjoying the weekly putting tips and we are surprised at how many more questions we are getting about putting. Just maybe, golfers are starting to recognize the importance of this part of the game. In the neighborhood of 45 percent of our score, and about 40 percent of the time we spend on the course is on the green. Yet we don’t really practice, nor do we know how to practice our putting.

With regard to your question about breaking uphill putts vs. breaking downhill putts and returning those you missed; first let me advise you that the answer is a lot more complex than it would seem.

I think we all recognize that fast greens break more than slow greens for the same slope. And a downhill breaking putt is similar to a fast green whereas an uphill breaking putt is similar to a slow green, therefore downhill breaking putts will break more than uphill breaking putts.

The reason for this is that a slow green (or uphill putt) requires that the ball must be hit harder, thus it starts off faster and slows down faster than a putt of the same distance on a fast green (or downhill putt), which must be hit more softly and it slows down more slowly, and thus takes more time to reach the hole. The longer a putt takes to reach the hole the more time gravity – pulling it downhill – will have to act.

The ball will take a path similar to a parabolic curve, breaking more at the end than at the beginning. This is due to gravitational forces and the phenomenon known as precession. The slower the ball travels the more it will break. Therefore at the end of the journey the ball will break considerably more than at the beginning. Because a downhill putt is travelling slower it will break 3 or 4 times more than an uphill putt.

Brian, you are right in not putting on the same path back to the hole as the ball took on its way past the hole because short putts do not break as much as long putts, especially if you hit them at the correct speed.

The correct speed for a short (two foot) putt should be hit hard enough to hit the back wall (not the top lip) of the cup and it should be traveling faster than the ball was when it passed the hole on the missed putt. Therefore it will not break as much.

A babied short putt – soft enough to only die in the hole – on a side hill lie will turn as much as 50 degrees as it dies. This is not what you want to do as you will inevitably miss this putt. Hit it with confidence and fast enough to hit the back wall of the cup and don’t aim outside the hole on short putts.

Brian, if you understand how and why putts break you will be a lot better off than watching the last foot or six inches to give you a good indication of what will happen on the next putt.

Frank

Frank Thomas, inventor of the graphite shaft, is founder of Frankly Golf. Thomas is chief technical advisor to GolfChannel.com. He served as technical director of the USGA for 26 years and directed the development of the GHIN system and introduced the Stimpmeter. To email a question for possible use in an upcoming Let's Be Frank column, please email letsbefrank@franklygolf.com