PGA Tour and Green Reading Books

Over the last day or so I have read with interest the news reports regarding the proposed restrictions that the PGA Tour may place on green reading books. I have provided links to some of these articles from our media friends at the bottom of this post.

Having specialized in putting over the last 25 years, and providing education to PGA and LPGA professionals on teaching putting to golfers I can say that green reading is one of the hardest parts of the game. It is a skill that is developed not only through understanding, but through repeated practice and exposure to different greens, topography and conditions.

As the technology has evolved to map greens and create a picture of every slope and swale that the golfer may be confronted with, green reading books have become extremely accurate.

I remember Frank and I were out visiting a friend who played on the PGA Tour on a practice day before a big event. Our friend was anxious and upset because his caddy hadn’t obtained the green reading booklet that they used every week. Frank and I were extremely surprised: this was a person who could read greens flawlessly, yet when he went into competition, he believed he needed the book.

When topics like this arise, I wish Frank was here to tell us what he thought, with all his experience in monitoring technology in the game, talking to Tour players, playing the game and most importantly, innovating. Balancing tradition and technology is not an easy task and Frank loved thinking about these matters.

Luckily for us, he wrote a lot of things down, so let me share an excerpt from our book The Fundamentals of Putting.

“Before we discuss the all-important Fall Line we need to understand what factors will influence the way a ball will travel on the green such as:

• the slope(s);

• up and downhill;

• overall undulations between the ball and the hole;

• the distance from the ball to the hole;

• the speed of the green.

Once we have quantified and included each of these fac­tors in our mental calculations we will have all the informa­tion we need to make a good putt. Easy, isn’t it?

The ability to read a green is dependent on our experience and acquired abilities. This skill is learned and improves with experience, but we can do with a little help to shorten the learning curve. However, we still need to understand how to interpret what we see.

What we should avoid is turning green-reading into a mechanical process. If we become overly reliant on devices, tables and charts to read greens we will not develop our nat­ural ability based on the processed information provided by our visual observation to perform this function.

If our visual observation tells us something different from the charts and table values, we will be mentally conflicted. This is something we do not need when we are over the ball, ready to make a putt.

Simply because the technology is available does not mean we need it or should use it.

However, we do need to understand certain physical laws, which will affect how the ball rolls on the green, allowing our natural abilities to play their part more effectively.

Several physicists have studied and reported on the tra­jectory of a ball rolling on a green. They have explained, in general terms, what happens when a ball is rolling on a green and why the ball breaks the way it does.

What these physicists tell us is not outside of what makes intuitive sense to us, and certainly helps us better under­stand what our visual observations and experience tell us — thus giving us the confidence we need to plan our putt.”

The Fundamentals of Puttiing, Frank Thomas and Valerie Melvin

Share your thoughts below with me and other Frankly Friends on this topic by replying below…what do you think of green reading books being used on Tour? Should they be banned or limited in their scope? Or are they OK?

I always love to read your comments. Thank you for being Frankly Friends and helping support our mission of Helping Golfers.

May The Frog be With You,



6 thoughts on “PGA Tour and Green Reading Books

  1. Agree 100%. Should have been banned a long time ago. No yardage books too. Takes the skill out of play. Green reading is an art based on science. No handwritten notes should be allowed. No range finders too. One can cheat and hand draw the green slope and contour and make it legit. Not fair. Arm locking should be banned too.
    I don’t know how they will enforce it.

  2. Thank you, Valerie. We do miss Frank very much. I thought it was interesting that the PGA Tour took further initiative to limit green reading material and not the ruling bodies. And as others have alluded, I now wonder if the ruling bodies at the very beginning of the use of yardage books wished they forbidden them.

    With kind wishes,
    Hank Holt

  3. From all I’ve read, enforcing this ruling is going to be a real nightmare. In fact, even interpreting it is a challenge. So, while we’re at it, why don’t we simplify everything and not only get rid of the green reading books altogether but get rid of the yardage books, too – anything in the way of written material. It would restore a lost dimension of the game if the pros – heck, if all of us – had to “judge” the distance rather than just “read” it. Meanwhile, the pros and their caddies, pencils in hand, stand there diddling around adding and subtracting numbers before pulling a club. And let’s not just eliminate the yardage books. Jackie Burke in his book, “It’s Only A Game,” says that “Stomping around for a sprinkler head that has ‘162’ stamped on it is a complete waste of time.”

  4. Green reading books should be banned. If you are playing golf, have a low handicap, play for money, etc. Golf needs to remain a skill, not a given, especially if you are getting an advantage. You are not playing golf as it was meant to be played, you are not really playing, your using an outside source. Not golf as it is for the true spirit of the game. My opinion!

  5. I don’t get it. The Tour pros played A LOT as youngsters, their talent was identified and facilitated by parents and coaches, and along the way in those years, they had to read their own putts in junior and high school and college golf. Then, suddenly, upon turning pro, they get the luxury of not having to burn extra calories carrying the bag, and not having to read putts from a crouched stance, but upright from a booklet. Like Frank said, just because the booklet is available doesn’t mean it should be used. I can agree with having the caddy help read the line, as his paycheck is affected by the team’s scores, but use the paper from the greens books in the Porta-Potties !

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