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January 15 2013

10:00 AM

On the Mark: Reading the grain

By Mark Immelman, Special to PGATOUR.COM

The 2013 PGA TOUR Season kicked off in the Aloha State and despite issues with Mother Nature at Kapalua we were treated to some spectacular golf (and vistas) over the two weeks.

Dustin Johnson signaled his intentions for the new season with a stellar display of golf at The Hyundai Tournament of Champions at Kapalua. He shot 16 under over three rounds for a four-stroke victory over defending champion Steve Stricker. In so doing Johnson became the first player since Tiger Woods to win in his first six seasons on TOUR after leaving college.

Then rookie Russell Henley made a splash at the Sony Open in Hawaii. He shot 24 under to win by three over veteran Tim Clark. Henley was stellar from the start, but his finish to the tournament illustrated magnificent skill and a maturity beyond his years. He birdied his last five holes to put an exclamation point on what was a fantastic start to his career.

Without a doubt, one has to make putts to shoot the scores that Johnson and Henley did in Hawaii.  In order to do so you have to be able to read the greens -- and specifically the grain -- well. Here are a few keys that pros use that could help you to figure out the challenge that is reading greens that have a strain of Bermuda grass:

Look for the color change:  The best way to make heads or tails of the direction of the grain on a longer putt is to look for any change in color of the grass. If your putt is down-grain (the grass laying in the same direction as which your putt is running) the putting surface will typically have a sheen to it and the color will be a lighter shade of green. Conversely, if the putt is into the grain, the surface will look darker and the grass will have a coarser look to it. Suffice to say, if the color is light green the putt will run faster and you will need to play a little more borrow than normal. If the color is darker, you will have to hit the putt a bit harder than normal and you will be able to play a little less break. If you are unable to distinguish any noticeable color change, walk to the opposite side of the hole and look back over the line or walk to the either side of the line of the putt. If there is any noticeable grain you will spot it as you compare your views from behind the ball or the hole or the left or right of the line.

Read the cup:  The condition of the grass around the cup can tell you in which direction the grain is lying. Typically the side of the cup where the grass is a little more broken and the edge of the cup is slightly more damaged will indicate the side of the cup towards which the grain is growing.  On the opposite edge of the cup the grass should look less damaged with the root structure more intact -- this is side is the side from which the grain is growing. Use this grain-reading technique on shorter putts where there are not multiple grain-direction changes; something that is highly likely on longer putts on sloping green complexes.

Gravity over grain: I know and trust gravity enough to believe that it will always beat grain when influencing the roll of the ball. That being said, every so often you may face a putt where the grain is running against the slope of the hill. In that case, play a little less borrow than normal and stroke the putt, but never aim below the cup and expect the grass to push the ball up the hill. On the flip side, if you happen to face a breaking putt with the grain running in the same direction as the slope, play a little extra borrow to allow for the combined efforts of gravity and grain on the roll of your putt. 

Finally, strike putts solidly on grainy greens. Whereas a mis-hit putt on Bent grass can still roll out significantly, a green with coarse, thick grass will gobble it up. So stay down and strive for solid contact on grainy greens.

Mark Immelman, the brother of PGA TOUR professional Trevor Immelman, is a well-respected golf instructor and head coach of the Columbus State University (Ga.) golf team. For more information about Mark and his instruction, visit his web site, markimmelman.com or follow him on Twitter @mark_immelman or “Like” Mark Immelman Golf Instruction on Facebook. He also has a golf instruction e-book called “Consistently Straight Shots – The Simple Solution” available on iTunes/iBooks.

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