Always Leave the Flag In

New Rule: Under Rule 13.2a(2):                  

There is no longer a penalty if a ball played from the putting green hits a flagstick left in the hole.

Players are not required to putt with the flagstick in the hole; rather, they continue to have the choice to have it removed (which includes having someone attend the flagstick and remove it after the ball is played).

Reasons for Change:

Allowing a player to putt with the flagstick in the hole without fear of penalty should generally help speed up play.

When the players did not have caddies, the previous Rule could result in considerable delay.

On balance it is expected that there is 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, and
  • In other cases, the ball may hit the flagstick and finish in the hole when it might otherwise have missed. 

Au contraire, rules guardians. It appears that leaving the flagstick in does have a decided advantage, judging by various professional golf performances over the past weekend. Today I’m going to take a stand and advocate for leaving the flag in on every shot. Here is my reasoning, please tell me if I’m wrong.

The ball has a better chance of going in the hole.

Dave Pelz is the master of short game analytics, and he wrote this article way back in 2007 (talking about chips and putts from the fringe). Basically, the flag gives a golfer a higher margin of error (effectively making the hole larger, thanks USGA!). Unless it’s extremely windy and the flag is waving all over or bending severely in one direction, leaving the flag in gives you a better chance at making your putt or chip. Think of it this way: when the flag is leaning away from you slightly, the hole is larger. When it’s leaning towards you, the ball hits and goes immediately downward into the hole. Win-win.

You have a better chance of aiming correctly.

This is especially true on long putts. Your eyes tend to respond better to a 3-dimensional perspective and you’ll have a tendency to aim your putts better. You also won’t need to take the flags out on the putting green when practicing, and as we all know, putting is largely about confidence and commitment. If you think you putt better with the flag in, you probably will.

You (should) play faster.

Ever played behind the group that puts the flag in the furthest possible spot from the cup and takes 5 minutes to amble over and put it back? Me too. If everyone agreed that leaving the flag in gave them an advantage we’d never have this issue again. Hit it on and putt it folks.

A caveat:

Always leaving the flag in will give you an advantage at almost every course you play. Sometimes you’ll run into a place with different flagsticks (this is what Dechambeau is talking about with the infamous coefficient of restitution quote). If the flags where you play are significantly larger than usual you’ll want to pull the flag.

Speaking of Dechambeau, c’mon man! Yes, he played to an impressive 7-shot victory this weekend in Dubai, and he’s currently ranked #5 in the OGWR (I honestly wouldn’t be surprised to see him at #1 at the end of the year). However he took a minute and 45 seconds over a putt on the 15th (there is supposed to be a penalty after one minute), then proceeded to take over a minute to hit his birdie putt on the 18th when he had already won the tournament. We all wish casual golfers would realize they’re not playing for hundreds of thousands of dollars during their regular Saturday game, but this isn’t the case. Players will generally follow the example the best players set. I get that Dechambeau is a different golfer than we’ve ever seen, and he’s playing for far more than we ever will, but still. You’re making golf boring dude.

Thanks for reading that little rant. Happy golfing!