If you’re like most players, you have probably wondered “What are golfers doing when they hold the putter up?”
It’s a good question because in a game where everyone wants a leg up on competition, it might help the average golfer. When someone hotels their putter up, they’re actually using a system to help them read greens.
The next time you’re playing golf and see someone do this, it’s called plumb bobbing.
As you will soon learn, plumb bobbing has been around for a long time and helped many golfers. Some golfers swear by it, while other golfers don’t believe in the plumb bob technique.
Recently, plumb bobbing has lost some of its popularity thanks to advanced heat map green reading books and other systems like AimPoint.
Keep reading to learn more about this unique way to read greens and how you can start trying it out today. It just might make reading greens at your local course that much easier.
Plumb Bob Golf 101
History of Plumb Bobbing
Before diving into this method, which is sometimes controversial in the golf world, let’s go back in time to see where it all started.
You might be thinking, wait, … what?
According to Wikipedia, “A plumb bob, or plummet, is a weight, usually with a pointed tip on the bottom, suspended from a string and used as a vertical reference line, or plumb-line. It is a precursor to the spirit level and used to establish a vertical datum. It is typically made of stone, wood, or lead but can also be made of other metals. If it is used for decoration, it may be made of bone or ivory.
The instrument has been used since at least the time of ancient Egypt to ensure that constructions are “plumb”, or vertical. It is also used in surveying, to establish the nadir with respect to gravity of a point in space. It is used with a variety of instruments (including levels, theodolites, and steel tapes) to set the instrument exactly over a fixed survey marker or to transcribe positions onto the ground for placing a marker.”
So yes, plumb bobbing is actually older than golf itself. After doing a ton of research, I still can’t find anything that says who brought this ancient construction tool to golf, so we’re not sure whom to credit. But regardless, it has helped many golfers learn how a putt will break and can make a difference for your short game.
Somehow, this idea made its way to the golf course and you can replace the device with your putter. This in turn helps determine whether the line of your putt goes to the right or left.
How to Use the Plumb Bob Method (Plumb Bob Correctly)
Now that you have a little history of this putting style, you’re probably thinking, “How do you use the plumb bob method?”
Let’s break it down to see if it can help you save strokes on the putting green.
Step 1: Check Your Putter
This method will not work if you don’t take the time to learn how the putter hangs.
The first step is to check the shaft to ensure that it hangs vertically. You want to hold it up with light grip pressure between your index finger and thumb.
To get started, align your putter with a straight line, such as a pillar at the clubhouse or a wall in your home. If it matches up with the straight lines, then your putter is good to go and will work.
Then, twist it so the shaft and object that you chose are level. The goal here is to see where the head of your putter is pointing and remember it for future reference. For this method to work, you need to hold the putter in the same place every time you read the green.
Remember, the putter normally won’t hang perfectly straight as the shaft is in the heel. That makes the toe normally heavier, unless you play a center shaft putter. If that’s the case, it’s much easier to use this method.
Again, please don’t skip this step because if your putter shaft isn’t straight, this method will not work and likely lead to a ton of frustration on the green. If you did the putter shaft test and it’s straight, then you can move on and start applying it to your game.
If this is confusing, make sure to watch this short YouTube video where he illustrates how to align the putter.
Step 2: Setup Correctly on the Putting Green
If you laid the proper groundwork to hang straight up and down, the next step is to test it on the putting green. Standing behind your ball, line the top of the shaft up above the ball with the bottom of the shaft splitting the ball. Your two feet should be shoulder width apart and behind the golf ball.
The zipper of your pants should be facing the hole and the putter is being held well above your waist. You’re basically looking through the shaft to the hole. What you see at this point should help you determine which way the putt breaks.
Step 3: Close Your Dominant Eye To Learn How the Putt Will Break
The next step is one of the most important elements – make sure to close your dominant eye and align the shaft with the ball. Close your non-dominant eye and keep only your dominant eye open.
As you hold the putter up, if the hole appears to the right, that means it’s breaking from right to left. If the cup is on the left, that means it’s breaking from left to right. If the hole appears to be split by the shaft, then it should be a pretty straight putt.
Final Step: Practice Plumb Bobbing
Like anything, don’t just read this article and take it straight to the course. You need to test it out extensively on the putting green so that you can trust it when you’re playing.
The last thing you want is to think it breaks the opposite direction!
On the putting green, use this method for all kinds of putts. Short, long, right to left, left to right, etc. so that you can get familiar with it and hopefully build your confidence. The more confidence you have, the easier it will be to put it well on the golf course.
I will say, avoid this for more than one break on a single putt. Multiple breaks and longer putts don’t seem to work as well as other systems.
FAQs About The Plumb Bob Technique
Do you have more questions about plumb bobbing a putt? If so, hopefully, we’ll answer it in the frequently asked questions and answers below.
Does the plumb bob work with downhill or uphill putts?
No, it only works to help you determine subtle breaks in the green that are sideways. It will not help you determine the slope of the putt or the grain, either.
Only look for a plumb line if you aren’t sure how a putt will break. This is why you should use this style on top of a normal green reading method.
It’s always a good idea to pace off putts so that you can see the slope and break from different angles. Countless times a putt might look flat, but as you walk to the hole, you feel and see the uphill slope.
One of the best examples of a player doing this is Dustin Johnson. He walks all around the putt, including looking at it from a side view, to help determine if it will break left or right.
Finally, while it’s great to get as much information as you can about the putt, don’t let it slow up the pace of play either.
Does the plumb bob work for long putts?
From what I’ve found and seen by players who do swear by this method, I would advise against plumb bobbing for long putts. Especially if it is a double breaking putt, as there isn’t a way to adapt this strategy to tricky double breaker putts.
Keep the vertical line, plumb bobbing method for the shorter putts to get the best results on the golf course.
Why do golfers hold up fingers when putting?
This is a good question, as it might seem like the same thing as this method. But in reality, when a player holds his fingers up to read the green (not his putter), this is actually called AimPoint. This is a unique green reading system that uses your feet and hands to see the break.
The AimPoint method starts by using your feet to evaluate the slope of the green. A player will stand behind their putt and then evaluate the slope based on the feeling in their feet.
For example, if your left foot feels more pressure, the slope is right to left. Once you identify the amount of slope, you then use your fingers to determine the ideal starting line. If you think it’s a “2” in regards to the slope, then you would hold two fingers to the right of hole.
This is then your starting line to give yourself a target. Again, this is a very brief overview of this unique methodology but wanted to compare it to the plumb bob. If you want to relate this with the plumb bob method, make sure to watch this YouTube video, as it is a great comparison.
Why does a plumb bob work?
A plumb bob works because it creates a vertical line between the ball and the hole.
The Egyptians used a weight to achieve this, while golfers use a putter head to create the same effect. Obviously, it’s two different tools and purposes, but it can help find a straight line (and for golfers, get some clarity on the slope of the green).
Does plumb bobbing actually help read greens?
This is a tough question to answer because yes, it can work. But at the same time, if you don’t hold it in the same place with the same pressure, your putter can be wrong. Then, you might start misreading greens and lose a lot of confidence in your short game.
I think this is a good tool if you want some backup when it comes to the direction of a short to mid-length putt. If you have no clue where it’s going, you can try this method, AimPoint, or even both. The trick, of course, is to not get confused or slow up play.
One thing I’ve always found on the green is that your first instinct is almost always right. Not to mention, when you go with your gut, you tend to hit putts with more conviction and not try to guide it to the hole. This almost always leads to a well struck putt that usually has a higher chance of going in.
It’s not to say that your first instinct is always right, but more often than not it is for having confidence over the putt.
Which pros read greens with plumb bobbing?
This is where I have some skepticism about the method. Because in general, I like to practice and act like professional golfers as much as possible. My thought is, if it works for them, it can work for normal, everyday amateurs (not including equipment of course).
But fewer golf professionals around the world seem to be plumb bobbing than ever before. Instead, a lot of them use detailed green reading books, AimPoint, and other systems as well.
When this was a more popular style, here were some of the biggest names who have used it, including Jim Furyk and Rickie Fowler. In general, pros tend to use the other methods listed and instead, this is more geared for amateur golfers.
Final Thoughts on Plumb Bobbing Putts
The plumb bob is an old-school technique that can help you on the greens… if you do it correctly. But the key is to make sure you get your putter in the proper location as you read the putt.
Also, don’t forget that it doesn’t work to help you determine the slope of the green and not great on long putts either. This is why I think it’s more of a tool than a full, green reading system to help you conquer the greens.
Finally, please don’t let this putting style slow up the pace of play. There is nothing worse than slow golf, especially from someone who takes forever to read a putt.
If you know the line, don’t bother with it. But if you aren’t sure or need some extra mental backup, give this style a try.