In 2019, the USGA changed the rules of golf. Well, at least one of them. It is no longer against the rules to leave the flagstick in the hole. Although this may seem like a small change, it is a big deal. Player’s everywhere are questioning how they play the game of golf. Should you leave the flagstick in or take the flagstick out?
Pre 2019 Penalties
Before the rule change in 2019, there were penalties for leaving the flagstick in. Many golfers compare the flagstick to the backboard of a basketball hoop. Similar to how basketball players use the hoop to increase their chances of scoring a basket, golfers assume that players use the flagstick to increase their chances of completing a hole.
This idea seems to have some support. When you think about it, the ball may lose some of its force when it hits the flagstick. Consider the number of times your ball has circled the hole, bounced out, or simply overshot it. If the flagstick was placed, would your ball have touched it? Do you think that would have changed the outcome? Most golfers believe that it would.
Penalties were given if the flagstick was left in due to the belief that it assisted a golfer in making it in the hole. Leaving the flagstick in the hole was considered cheating. When the rules changed in 2019, many golfers were conflicted as to whether they should follow tradition or take advantage of the change in rules.
As a result, several golfing experts decided to take test shots with the flagstick in and with the flagstick out. The results were fairly straightforward. Leaving the flagstick increases your chance of making the putt. Even when the ball did not remain in the hole, it remained closer to the hole than it did when the flagstick was removed.
Leaving the flagstick in is a benefit to the golfer. It results in more successful puts and a lower match score. It does this by increasing the likelihood of a putt resulting in a hole. Even when the ball does not remain in the hole, it will stop closer to the hole if it hits the stick. The closer the ball is to the hole, the higher the likelihood of putting it in.
When the ball is shot at the center of the hole, where the flagstick stands, it acts as a backboard. These ‘center’ shots almost always result in a hole. The farther the shot is from the center the lower the likelihood of the ball going in.
There were a few factors that contributed to whether the ball went in the hole or went past it. Considering these two factors will indicate whether the flag will increase the likelihood of a successful putt. These factors include speed and flag stiffness.
In these studies, the speed at which the ball was moving played a role in whether the ball remained in the hold. Slower moving balls would hit the flagstick and fall right into the hole. As the speed increased, the chance of the ball falling into the hole due to the presence of the flagstick decreased. However, even the quickest moving balls seemed to be slowed down by the flagstick. This was determined based on the distance the ball traveled past the hole.
Another factor that played a role in the outcome was flag stiffness. In general, there are two main types of flags found on golf courses. One flagstick is more flexible than the other. The more flexible flagstick seemed to absorb more of the ball’s energy than the stiffer flagstick. This absorption of energy drastically reduced the speed of the ball and often resulted in a successful putt. The stiffer flagsticks absorbed less energy and did not affect the ball’s course nearly as much.
The studies conducted after the rule change in 2019 have proven that your score could improve by leaving the flagstick in. But, you may be wondering if there are any benefits to leaving the flagstick out. Removing the flagstick is a tradition for many golfers, but there may be other benefits as well.
Pulling the pin is a tradition for many golfers and their partners, but it could mean even more than that. Removing the flagstick before your stroke may be more impressive to some people, especially if the ball goes in. Because leaving the flagstick in is seen as an advantage, difficult putts may be much more impressive if you remove the pin.
Another benefit of removing the flagstick is the avoidance of bouncing. Some golfers complain that the flagstick bounces their ball out of the hole. To some, this may sound like an excuse, but it is possible. If the golf ball hits the flagstick at the right angle and speed, it could result in the ball bouncing back or out.
When you weigh the benefits of playing with the flagstick in and playing with the flagstick out, it may seem that there is a clear winner. But, the choice should be dependent on your values and gameplay. For those that value tradition and play the game the way, it has always been played, pulling the pin may be the best option.
For newer players that did not really play golf before the rule change or for players that do not hold the tradition of pulling the pin in the highest regard, leaving the pin in may be the best option. Even if you simply want to win, leaving the flagstick in is no longer penalized. Take advantage of the rule change and save yourself a few strokes.