1. Take a look at the green from 50 yards away and figure out the high and low points of the green. From this far away, you can also see features such as ridges. Give a quick thought to where the water flows from the green.
"This is a picture of the 16th green viewed from the right side of the fairway. The flag is in the "B" pin position. Use the ridge to the left of the green to bring a shot into this pin." Mr. Mulligan's words describing Ballyneal #16. Notice, he is asking the player to aim off the green to get close to this pin. When I played Ballyneal, I relied on my caddy to give me aim points. It was often far from the hole due to the hills, high winds and ridges on the greens. Sometimes its better to be 15 feet from the hole than to risk a shot that is 5 feet or 50 feet if you catch the wrong ridge. Take another look at the green. The high spot is clearly to the right and behind, but that isn't consistent on the green. The designer creates different high spots to funnel water and offset nature. The mound in front of the front bunker is important to keep water from running straight into the bunker. This is a consistent feature of all greens and will influence your putts if they roll near bunker complexes.
3. Read your putt. You should take a quick peek from the side to see if you have an uphill or downhill putt. From behind, first pick out the center of the cup for your putt. This is very important because it will help you establish the break point and it will also increase the odds of your putt falling. If you have a putt that breaks from right to left a lot, your center might be 4 O'Clock. If you choose that as your center, you can drop a putt into the hole at 3 O'Clock or 5 O'Clock if the speed is good. If you choose a center that is too low for the break, you have chosen your low side as the center and that gives you very little hole to work with to make your putt. Now, see the path of the ball as though you were rewinding a tape; from the hole back to your putter face. Pause at the spot you want to roll it over. Now, at the ball, figure out if you need to play break to get the ball to roll over that spot. Visualize the putt from the ball to the hole. Work on your visualization until you can do this in real time. This is very helpful for putting with mounds or tiers in between you and the hole. It helps you break the putt into portions and find the speed needed at each juncture.
Now, you are ready to aim. Your aim is responsible for the first 6" of the putt, but no more! You want to roll the ball on the path you just visualized at the speed you need to roll it in the hole. If you are still thinking of the line of the entire putt, you are not going to have good speed control. Let go of the line as soon as you aim and roll the ball freely.
That is your process for reading greens. First, see the green from 50 yards away. Next, see the greens terrain. Finally, read the line of the putt.
We had a few good drills today that might help you, too.
Another drill we did that was good was to put a ball down at the middle of the hole as chosen for a breaking putt. The goal was to hit a putt and knock the ball in. It is good because it gives you a good sense of the proper speed and if you hit the ball low or high side, it deflects to the sides of the cup. It really helped cement the fact that the center of the hole isn't always the closest point to you as you putt.
Finally, we talked through putts and put balls down at important points to reflect points the ball would go over in its path to the hole.
Finally, we spent some time today talking about the speed you want to carry to the hole. On uphill putts, on bumpy greens and on wet greens, you can hit the ball a foot past the hole. You can stretch that to 18 inches if any of the above are severe. Just remember to read less break at the end of the putt. On downhill putts, slick greens or big breakers, roll the ball to end 6 inches to a foot past the hole. As you become good at controlling your speed, you will begin to naturally see when to give the putt a run and when to die it in the cup. I agree with many of the experts that there is one speed for a putt to have the maximum chance to roll in, but I also know that sometimes a little more speed is helpful in overcoming bumpiness or to hold the line on uphill putts. I also believe that slick greens call for balls to die, especially when there is a lot of break around the hole. If you misread a putt with a lot of break on slick greens, chances are it will begin to work away from the hole very early after you hit it and give you a testy putt to finish up.