End of an era: Beginning Thursday, PGA Tour pros will no longer be able to rely on green-reading books

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Rest in peace, green-reading books.

At least, that is for tournament use on the PGA Tour. These pocket-sized books featuring highly detailed illustrations and in use on the Tour since 2008, join the likes of George Orwell’s 1984, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, and JD Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye among famous banned books.

Unlike those once-controversial literary classics, the green-reading books helped players to detect the directions that putts break and the percentage of slope in different sections of greens. The ban became official on January 1 and goes into effect Thursday at this week’s Sentry Tournament of Champions.

Tour veteran Kevin Streelman, who used the books religiously for the past several years, was a member of the Tour’s 16-member Player Advisory Council that voted unanimously in May that the books had to go. He explained why the move was initiated by the players, noting he didn’t like the optics on TV of seeing the noses of players buried in the books as they determined the break of a putt.

“I think green reading is a skill of the game,” he said. “It’s some pretty cool technology that probably jumped up on us quickly and everyone thought it was time to rein it in.”

“It got out of control for a while,” said Davis Love III. “At the 2016 Ryder Cup, you had people sneaking around with machines and shooting the pins and putting them on 8×12 paper. It’s just a little too much technology. Yes, there’s technology involved in just about everything: rangefinders, GPS, scorekeeping, and all that kind of stuff. But we need to be careful that it doesn’t become a computer game out here.”

The pushback began in 2018 when the USGA limited the size of the books to 4½ x 7 inches, to the scale that 3/8-inch on the book would correspond to five yards on the green. That legislation was deemed by several top players to be too soft. The purpose behind restricting the green-reading books is to ensure that players and caddies use only their eyes and feel to help them read the line of play on the putting green. Critics say the books offered too much assistance. Or as former World No. 1 Luke Donald put it, “We shouldn’t be given a book with all the answers.”

“It’s not that it’s an advantage really, it’s just taking away a skill that takes time and practice to be mastered,” said Rory McIlroy, president of the PAC, at the U.S. Open in June. “I think reading greens is a real skill that some people are better at than others, and it just nullifies that advantage that people have.

“Honestly, I think it’s made everyone lazier. People don’t put in the time to prepare the way they used to.”

Rory McIlroy looks over his yardage book on the fifth green during the second round of the Tour Championship golf tournament at East Lake Golf Club. Mandatory Credit: Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports

But they will now, and so will their caddies. Scott Sajtinac, who currently works with Brandt Snedeker, estimated he’ll be spending anywhere from 5 to 10 more hours per week on the greens rolling balls to gather as much detail on the putting surfaces without using electronic equipment (no levels or measuring devices are allowed). Expect to see a rise in players and caddies using the AimPoint method of green-reading.

In a rare instance, the USGA and R&A followed the lead of the players and approved a Local Rule (MLR G-11) in December that enables a committee to limit players to using only the yardage book that it has approved for use in the competition.

The local rule gives the Tour the ability to establish an officially approved yardage book at each tournament so that the diagrams of putting greens show only minimal detail (such as significant slopes, tiers, or false edges that indicate sections of greens). In addition, the local rule limits the handwritten notes that players and caddies are allowed to add to the approved yardage book.

“Am I happy it is going away? Yes,” said Matt Kuchar. “I think it is good for the game for them to go away. I don’t think the game was meant to be broken down that scientifically.”

Justin Rose, who tends to be more the scientist than the artist, noted that he has won an equal number of tournaments with the green-reading book as he has without it and doesn’t expect that his inability to have the information handy will make a big difference.

“I don’t rely on it. I used it as a quick guide,” he said, adding “there are ways for me to still use it and the concepts and strategies without it. I will still use it in my preparation in my hotel room.”

Jordan Spieth, who is known as one of the deadliest putters on Tour, had become a devout user of the books in recent years yet he, too, was among the PAC members who voted for the ban. Speaking ahead of the Sentry Tournament of Champions, he said that he wasn’t too concerned about losing access to what had become a security blanket of sorts on the greens, noting that Augusta National Golf Club didn’t allow them and he had a pretty good track record there, including a green jacket from 2015.

Jordan Spieth looks over his yardage book on the first green during the final round of the U.S. Open golf tournament at Torrey Pines Golf Course. Mandatory Credit: Michael Madrid-USA TODAY Sports

“I seem to find myself in a really good space on the greens there, really feeling putts,” he said. “I’m one that’s used (green books) because why wouldn’t you use ’em? More for a reference point and a lot of times more for speed than trying to dial in an AimPoint situation or a line, so I’m perfectly fine with the changes.

“I think that to me, putting you have to read it right, you have to put a stroke on it and you have to hit it with the right speed. I thought with the green reading materials it took one of those three skills away from it and I think that it’s a skill that I would say is an advantage of mine and so I’m excited to see what it can mean as far as strokes gained compared to the field on the greens.”

Talor Gooch, who won the RSM Classic, the last event on the Tour where the books were allowed, used a green-reading book en route to his first victory but said he was glad to see them be gone.

“It sways me away from my instincts and my skill set,” he said. “It will be nice to not have almost another voice in my head and I think it will free me up.”

Steve DiMeglio contributed reporting to this story.