We've all been there. You hit a great shot into the green, you're feeling good about yourself, but then you see the break your putt is going to take and you freak out a little bit.
It's OK. "Reading greens is a little bit of an art form," PGA Professional Rob Labritz told us. But, it's not an art form that you can't master by following some simple steps.
Labritz says one question he's often asked is: "How the heck do you read greens?"
Fair question -- one that Labritz has a rather simple and logical answer for: If you can see hills and slope, you can read a green. Reading the green, Labritz explained, happens before you even reach the dance floor.
Generally, people are riding golf carts on the course," he said. "This isn't going to do anything to help you read greens. If you're on a cart, you're going to pull up to the sides of the greens. You're not getting a good look at the green, straight on, from the front. I'd say you should start reading the green when you're 20 yards out. That's where you can really start to see the slope."
Once you're 20 yards out, Labritz encourages you to start looking at the green from left to right and front to back. If you do that, the idea is that by the time you reach you're ball you already have a good idea of how the putt is going to move. If you've done your homework on the walk up to the green, you'll already know that it's pitched a certain way."
"Reading greens is just seeing slopes," Labritz said. "You see it all the time -- people looking at the break from every direction and a lot of them don't really know what it is they're looking for exactly. That's why you need to read the green from the front and really pay attention on the walk up."
But what if you find yourself in a low area?
"Get yourself to the lowest spot you can either on the green, or just before the green in the fairway," Labritz said. "This is going to give you an almost high-def look at the slope. If you're right over the top of the ball, you're not going to see the slope or the subtleties. Think about it. It's like being in a plane, flying over the midwest. Everything looks flat as a pancake. But, if you were down there on the ground, you'd quickly notice it isn't nearly as flat as it looked from the sky. It's the same with putts. If you're reading from right on top of the ball, you're not going to see what you would if you were further away."
If you're interested in getting a little more sophisticated with your green reading, it might be worth it to check out AimPoint -- a system you've seen the likes of Adam Scott utilize on the PGA Tour where the player feels the slope with his or her feet and then uses his or her arm and fingers to determine where to aim.
"AimPoint is a nice way of getting used to slope in the green," Labritz said. "It's a system that works. You need to learn it, but it's a tool that'll help you read greens."
Are you someone who takes a caddie? If you do or have, surely you've been in that situation where he or she says, "hit the ball to this spot and you're golden."
Labritz warns you to be cautious with taking such advice.
"I'm not discounting caddies at all, but when you have one they usually point at a line and say hit it here," he said. "I appreciate them saying it'll be the line. But it's all about your speed. There are lots of lines for every putt. It's nice to get the general direction down, but it's all about speed. If you hit a putt hard, it's going to take less break. The softer you hit it, the more break it'll take."
While there are probably loads of thoughts dancing through your head as you prepare to stroke your putt, there's really only one you need to remember, Labritz said. Don't overthink it.
"The best putters are the ones who have studied the green before they get to the ball," Labritz said. "Once they address the putt, the mind goes blank, they think about nothing and just stroke the ball."
There are only two ways to miss a putt, Labritz said:
1. You mishit it.
2. You misread it.
"That should simplify it a lot," he said. "Those are the only two ways to miss. Do your due diligence on the way to your ball, pick your line and let your speed knock it in. Speed and line are the two most important aspects in place when it comes to putting and I can tell you that speed is way more important than line. People get far too concerned with the line when they should be focused on speed."
Rob Labritz, who has played in four PGA Championships (he was low-Club Professional in 2010 at Whistling Straits), is currently the Director of Golf at GlenArbor Golf Club in BedFord Hills, N.Y. He was also the PGA Met Section Player of the Year in 2008 and 2013, as well as the Westchester Golf Association's Player of the Year in 2002, 2003, 2008, 2013 and 2015. You can learn more about Labritz at www.RobLabritz.com and you can follow him on Twitter, @Rlabritz.