The new Rules of Golf have sparked debate about one fundamental change. Golfers now are able to choose whether or not to leave the flagstick in the hole when putting with no penalty if the ball hits the flagstick. The question is what is the best choice?
Golfers now have three options when putting. Remove the pin completely, have someone tend the pin, or leave the pin in and unattended. If your putt hits the pin in the third scenario, there’s no penalty (formerly two strokes or loss of hole). The USGA says there “should be no advantage in being able to putt with the unattended flagstick in the hole; in some cases, the ball may strike the flagstick and bounce out of the hole when it might otherwise have been holed, in other cases, the ball may hit the flagstick and finish in the hole when it might otherwise have missed.”
The change is intended to speed up play however it has received mixed reviews on tour so far. 2017 USPGA champion Justin Thomas is one that won’t be putting with the pin still in the hole. “I just, I truly, I can’t, I wouldn’t be able to take myself seriously. I just feel like it would be very, very weird,” explained Thomas. “If I have an 8-footer to win a golf tournament, I can’t, I mean no offence, I can’t really take myself seriously if I kept the pin in,” he said. “If I have a putt I’m trying to make, that thing’s coming out.” Dustin Johnson is another big name that is in agreement with Thomas. The world number three said that he can’t imagine many instances where he would need the flag to be kept in the hole.
“It’s going to be weird because the flag’s going to be going in and out a lot. But it’s all right,” Johnson said. “If you got a real long putt or something I might leave it instead of having the caddie stand there and tend it. So I guess I will leave it in occasionally.” However, one player in favour of the new ruling is Bryson DeChambeau who won four times on Tour in 2018. He says he will experiment with the flag being in or out depending on the flagstick itself. “It depends on the firmness value of the flag. The C.O.R. or coefficient of restitution of the flagstick,” explained the world number five. “I won’t do it at a U.S. Open because of metal flagsticks but most likely will everywhere else. All I try to do is use every aspect of the game of golf to my advantage. I try to use the rules to my advantage in the most positive way possible. Not trying to skirt around anything, just use them.”
But before you decide how you want to putt, let’s review some facts There isn’t much space for a ball to fall into the hole before hitting the flagstick, especially if the pin is leaning slightly toward the golfer. However studies show conclusively that you should putt with the pin in! Testing has been performed with a special putting device built to roll putts accurately aimed with a laser—and a true, pure roll—from two feet away. The putts at different speeds hit different parts of the pin on flat, uphill and downhill sloping greens.
The test results published in GOLF Magazine were conclusive: You will hole a higher percentage of putts when you leave the flagstick in. The reason is that a significant amount of energy is lost from a putt’s speed when the ball hits a fibreglass flagstick. The speed-loss enables gravity to pull the slower moving ball down into the hole more often. To make you feel better about leaving the pin in, think about how many long putts and chips you’ve seen crash into the pin and then fall into the hole. If you’re watching golf on TV, you’ve also seen several shots fly into the hole directly from the fairway and staying in.