Golf flagstick rule 13.a: In or out? How do you decide?

Leave the flagstick in? Take it out? You must decide!

The new golf flagstick rule, 13.a, puts the burden of decision squarely on me and you.

Here it is, straight from the USGA horse’s mouth:

If you make a stroke with the flagstick left in the hole and the ball in motion then hits the flagstick, there is no penalty and the ball must be played as it lies.

The decision to have the flagstick in the hole must be made before your stroke, by either leaving the flagstick in the hole or having a removed flagstick put back.

In either case, you must not try to gain an advantage by deliberately moving the flagstick to a position other than centred in the hole. If you do so and the ball in motion then hits the flagstick, you get the general penalty.

Bryson DeChambeau is testing out the option for us this weekend at Kapula and so far he’s leading the field in strokes gained: putting. I don’t putt like Bryson DeChambeau and you probably don’t either, but I can’t argue with the stats. No matter how awkward it may feel to leave the flagstick in which he’s putting, DeChambeau is wielding a hot flatstick.

Maybe it’s a happy coincidence that he’s leaving the flagstick in, but maybe it’s not.

If you believe Dave Pelz, DeChambeau’s dominance on the green is no accident. There’s an advantage to putting with the flagstick in the cup, even though the USGA and the R&A clearly believed no advantage would accrue when they revised the ancient practice of removing the flag before rolling the putt.

Pelz looked back almost 20 years, to his own 1990 Pin In/Pin Out test that concluded we will all hole more putts from close in (the test distance was 2 feet) putting with the flagstick in the cup. Even with the stick in the cup, there’s plenty of space between the edge of the cup and the flagstick so the ball has more than enough room to drop.

Given that gap of open space – 0.195″ to be precise – there’s another, more subtle factor operating that works in your favor if you’re putting with the flatstick in the cup.

I’ll let Dave Pelz explain:

. . . a significant amount of energy is lost from a putt’s speed when the ball hits a fiberglass flagstick. The speed-loss enables gravity to pull the slower moving ball down into the hole more often. Even though balls have changed since my testing, holes and flagsticks have not, and the “energy-loss” effect will still win the day.

That’s why Bryson DeChambeau is leading the Kapula field in strokes gained: putting and that’s why I’m going to override my discomfort and leave the stick in the cup for my next round.

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