How to Putt at the Apex of Your Game

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Many golfers do a good job at visualizing the line of a putt, even with big breaks, but they often make one key error in selecting the proper line. Many golfers instinctively choose to aim at the apex of a break or the point of the break that is farthest from the straight line to the hole. Instead, they should be selecting a line that is quite a bit wider to aim at, which is more of a tangent to the arc of the break. This great lesson from PGA Professional Chris Ryan looks at green reading and explains the concepts of an apex and an aim line for breaking putts.

Most Players Under Read Break in Putts

One of the more confusing aspects associated with putting is green reading. Players frequently severely under read the amount of break they need to play on their putts. To teach a lesson on reading break and selecting the proper line to start your ball, we've set up about a 20-foot putt that has quite a bit of right-to-left break on it. Most golfers are pretty good at seeing the break and they can pretty much figure out whether the ball is going to break from the right or from the left. Where most golfer's struggle is judging how much that ball is going to break and were to aim when they start the ball. The all-too-common problem for amateur and club golfers is under reading putts on the golf course. They simply underestimate the line that they need to start the ball, and this often results in misses on what we call the low side.

The Apex

Next, we'll take a look at where most golfers aim versus where they should aim. The first thing you should do is mentally draw a straight line from the ball to the hole, so that you can visualize the direct line. Next, you should be able to see (or feel) if there's a break (slant) in the slope of the turf. If there's a break (slant) we don't really want to roll the ball along that straight line (because it would veer from the line), but we need the straight line as a reference point. Most golfers will start by surveying the putt and trying to form a picture of how the ball is going to get to the hole. As an example, let's say we think the ball will break about 3-feet. To allow for this, we've got to mentally calculate how far from the straight reference line we have to roll the ball for it to return back to the straight reference line but crossing directly over the hole. The point where the ball would travel farthest from the straight line before moving back toward the straight line is called the "apex".  Most players will guess on where that apex point will fall and then aim their putt directly toward the apex point. By this approach, if they believe the putt will break about 3 feet, they will not aim wider than 3 feet on the target line - they will aim at the apex.

Unfortunately, this is where too many golfers make a big mistake. They calculate and picture that there is three feet of break on this putt. They see the apex point that's three feet from their straight line, so they roll the ball directly to the apex, playing exactly three feet of break. But if they hit this putt at the apex point, they will see the ball finish way low of the hole. The amount of break that needs to be played is significantly more than 3-feet or the apex point.

Tangent of the Apex Arc

Instead, we'll have to aim this ball significantly more to the right. The correct aim line is between six or seven feet. A better reference line for our aim is on a tangent of the arc of the apex point (as shown in the illustration below) and can see how the initial start direction is much further to the right.

By improving our understanding of where we will need to aim, yes, we give ourselves a higher chance of holing putts, but more important, we're going to give ourselves less chance of three putting. That's really important for course management. We need to make sure that we are starting on good lines with good speed and getting it close.

Read the Break

But challenge yourself to see even more break. Shift your position more down the slope so that you can look more up the slope.  There's a high probability that you're going to see a lot more break than you saw from your original position. Keep on shifting down the slope. Keep looking more up the slope until you hit your breaking point. That is the point where you say to yourself there's no way this putt can possibly break that much. Once you get there, shift back one position walk into your golf ball and roll your putt. You'll find that the actual break on your putt will be as much as 70 to 80 percent more than you originally saw from looking at your normal position from the ball looking straight to the hole.

Consistent Setup will Equal Consistent Results

No matter how well you read the break, you will still need a good address position, especially getting your eyes directly over the ball. Take a comfortable putting stance that places the golf ball directly below your eyes. This can be tested by placing a golf ball against your forehead, then just gently releasing the ball to the ground. If you are aligned properly, the ball will land directly on top of the ball on the ground.

Hit the Sweet Spot

Ideally, you want your putter face to be striking the golf ball slightly on the upstroke. This will create a little topspin and a better roll. To ensure that you are consistently stroking your putts into the sweet spot of the putter, place tees in the ground that are just a fraction wider than the width of the putter blade. The tees provide instant feedback.  These tees form an alley for putter blade to pass between.  When your stroke it steady and even, the putter blade will pass between to the tee pegs cleanly with no contact. 

Improving Your Putting is Your Fastest Way to Lower Your Golf Scores

Putting represents between 40% to 60% of the score of most golfers. However, if you visit just about any practice facility, the driving range will be full, but the practice greens will usually be empty. The statistic above lets us know that this should be reversed. 

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