One in a weekly series of stories about golf gear to run each Wednesday.
By Gary Van Sickle
Fourteen months later, the other shoe (with or without spikes) still hasn’t dropped. It was May of 2017 when golf’s governing bodies, the USGA and R&A, announced they were looking into whether green-reading books should be allowed.
It was a buy-one-get-one-free bombshell. First, most recreational golfers and golf fans had never heard of green-reading books and maps and had no idea that many PGA Tour pros used them. Second, those maps were considered so helpful for putting that they might be banned? That sounds like something the worst putters in the world – us – really could use.
Maybe the USGA won’t do anything. Banning green-reading materials because they take some of the skill out of putting would open a can of worms. How are they any different from precise course-yardage books, which have been a Tour staple for years? Would the USGA ban yardage books, too? If so, how about yardages on sprinkler heads?
The whole mess would be like stepping back into the 1950s, where, actually, the USGA is more comfortable.
I don’t see any bans happening. The important part of this report is, there are green-reading maps in handy, easy-to-use forms such as phone apps that can help us hackers save strokes.
COURTESY OF GOLFLOGIX
GolfLogix’s Putt Breaks app offers green-reading maps for nearly 9,000 U.S. courses for a $49.99 annual subscription.
I tried out GolfLogix’s Putt Breaks app (www.GolfLogix.com), which is easy to do because GolfLogix offers a 30-day free trial. It’s a $49.99 annual subscription after that.
“Unless you grew up playing golf, you’re probably not good at reading greens,” said Pete Charleston, GolfLogix’s president. “I didn’t pick up the game until I was 30. Most days, I don’t see the lines, and I’m a pretty darn good putter.”
The Putt Breaks app launched in October, but Charleston had his defining moment with it a month earlier when he played golf with a handful of golf-industry giants to show off the product at Park Hyatt Aviara Resort, just north of San Diego.
“Those greens are nasty. They’ve got a lot of movement,” Charleston said. “It was the first demo I’d done with anyone in the golf industry. I was excited, but I’m a 6-foot-5 former basketball player with an 8 handicap and a swing that’s not beautiful. These guys were plus-2, plus-1 and scratch handicaps and banging it down the middle.”
That day, using Putt Breaks, Charleston knocked down putts like Steph Curry pouring in treys. He was the man.
“I had 12 putts on the back nine,” Charleston said. “I holed a double-breaking 60-footer. I was chipping to gimme range. I made big-breakers. Confidence breeds confidence, and after the third or fourth hole, I was unstoppable.
“Those guys were like, ‘How many times have you played here?’ I said, ‘Never,’ and they said, ‘That’s not possible.’ I was just feeling it that day. That doesn’t happen every round with Putt Breaks, but that round, it did.”
My first round with Putt Breaks wasn’t quite so exceptional. For one thing, Charleston was an expert PB user while I was a novice. For another, I tried it out at Del Mar Golf Course in lightly settled Wampum, Pa., about 45 minutes northwest of Pittsburgh. I was mildly surprised that this little off-the-beaten-track course was among the nearly 9,000 U.S. courses in Putt Break’s directory.
Cellphone reception wasn’t great, and I was six holes into my speed-golf round (18 holes in 2 hours and 20 minutes, a sweet deal for $18 with a cart) before the app finished loading Del Mar’s course data.
Then, it got fun. Putt Breaks isn’t just for reading greens. It’s got total GPS info. My phone showed me the map of each hole, gave me instant yardages from my location to the front, middle and back of the green, and when I touched a hole feature – say, a bunker – I received an instant distance to that bunker. You also can keep scores and stats.
On the green, Putt Breaks’ map is a whirlpool of arrows that indicate the slope and direction. Since Del Mar’s greens are firm and springy, it was helpful to check the green map before I played an approach shot, so I knew which direction the ball would jump after it went doink. That’s a big help when pitching from off the green, too.
“Most people just look at the pin when they chip or pitch instead of looking at the break of the green,” he said. “I use it so much for that. It really starts on the approach-shot view. It helps you plan your approach shot and play to your strengths, whether you’re a 5 or 15 handicap. It’s a whole mentality shift. Approach smarter, chip smarter and putt smarter.”
The cool thing about Putt Breaks is that it automatically aligns its view of the green to the user’s location. It’s all 3-D, all the time. Tilt the bottom of the phone away from you and the screen’s viewing angle lowers so you get a worm’s-eye view of your line. From there, you can scroll on the screen and effectively “walk” along your line to the hole.
The arrows are self-explanatory. One wild card in Putt Breaks is that you have to input the cup location yourself. You do that by enlarging the map on your screen and tapping. To read your putt, you stand by your golf ball, then use a finger to draw a line from your position to the cup. Then you interpret the arrows to figure the break and whether it’s uphill or downhill.
I had 30 putts for the round, about average, but I had a lot of near misses, burned edges and lip-outs. Thanks to Putt Breaks, though, I made fewer tentative strokes than usual because I felt sure about the line.
“You can’t put a price on the confidence you feel when you know you have the read,” Charleston said. “One low-handicapper I played with said, ‘I think I saved two or three strokes today with Putt Breaks.’ The guy shot 68. ‘Better reads,’ I asked? He said, ‘Ah, you only gave me one read, but what it did was confirm that my read was right. Then I stepped up and hit the putt. It was more of a confidence thing.’ ”
One potential downside to using Putt Breaks is setting your phone on the green before you putt and then forgetting it. Don’t do that. This is why we have pockets. Another potential downside is doing the same thing with a club.
I had tree trouble at the par-4 eighth hole and ended up making a poor chip from behind the green, leaving myself a 10-footer for bogey. The terrain sloped right, but the green seemed to tilt left. I used Putt Breaks to figure out that the putt would go left. It did, but I didn’t hit the putt on line, so I missed. The double bogey was less important than discovering my 60-degree wedge was missing two holes later. I’d left it lying on the eighth green because I’d been so intent on the putt and getting the read right that I forgot about it.
The mistake cost me eight minutes to drive the cart back along the 10th fairway, across the road and up the hill to No. 8. It was totally Putt Breaks’ fault.
So, Putt Breaks, you’ll be hearing from my attorney. Also, uh, sign me up for that annual-subscription thing.