Why You SHOULDN'T Putt With the Flag In

By: | Mon 23 Sep 2019 | Comments


It’s a debate that has been raging since the dawn of time: should you keep the flag in or take it out when putting? Okay, so not quite since the dawn of time, but, though the new rule was only instituted at the start of 2019, it does feel like it's been going on for a while. Recently, we published a round up of the most popular responses, weighing both sides of the argument. Whilst I understand the case for diplomacy, however, I just can’t bring myself to embrace the new rule.

The Benefits of Putting with the Flag In 

Don’t get me wrong. I understand that putting with the flag in has benefits. One of the biggest of these is to your score. I’m lucky that I’ve always been a pretty good putter, but for players who are less confident, the difference can be night and day. My best friend, now a plucky nine handicapper, is a great example. While it isn’t the only reason his handicap has whistled down in the last 12 months, there's no doubt the new rule has been a factor. I don’t know whether it has many benefits for lag putting, but on the short ones, putting with the flag in has improved his putting dramatically. Previously, a tricky three footer had to be carefully judged, finessed down a slope and trickled in – everything had to be just right. And my friend often struggled to meet these demands. Introduce a flagstick, however, and you effectively have a ready-made backstop. If you stroke the putt hard at the hole you’ll be fine. My friend does exactly this, counting on the weight of the flag to stop his putts, happily saving shots on his score. From the perspective of a player who dislikes putting, I can see how this must be a godsend. It makes golf enjoyable and reduces your handicap. What's not to like?

Negative 1: It Erodes Skill

Well, the erosion of skill for one. Whilst it’s great fun to shoot lower scores, I worry that putting with the flag debases what was previously a very nuanced part of the sport. Not for nothing is putting commonly known as “the game within a game”. The challenges of marrying pace and line, scouting out a green and selecting and then executing an appropriate stroke are endless, and, for golfing purists like me, a key part of the appeal of the sport. It may make the game a little easier, but these challenges are greatly eroded with the introduction of a flag in the hole. Yes, it’s nice to slash a few strokes off your handicap, but doesn’t putting with the flag in make golf more boring? Knowing that – from a certain distance - you can pretty much hit your putt as hard as you like, straight at the hole no matter what the break, and there’s a 90% chance it'll topple in? For me there’s only a very fine line between putting with the flag in and playing with those novelty 'foot-golf' holes the size of buckets. It may boost your ego and lower your score, but it takes something away from the game.

Negative 2: It Unfairly Redistributes Money at Pro Level

This issue is even starker at the pro level, where abstract ideals like the 'purity of golf' meet concrete rewards like money. Whether it’s through psychological reasons or because putting with the flag in palpably makes short putts more likely to drop, the new option is already making ripples in the professional game. Take the example of Adam Scott, who has famously long had a problem with short putting and has recently experienced a resurgence thanks to putting with the flag in. In 2018, the season before the new rule was introduced, Scott was ranked a disappointing T165th out of roughly 200 tour members in strokes gained putting, losing over a shot a tournament (-0.285 shots a round) to the field. Comparing this to this year, the season in which the new rule came into effect, the difference is like chalk and cheese. Scott sat 31st on the same register, now no longer losing, but GAINING 1.5 shots a tournament (0.348 shots a round) on the field. It’s difficult to convert this into monetary terms, but given the slimness of margins between winning and losing and the massive purses on the PGA and European Tours, it’s safe to say that this 2.5 shot difference is worth a lot of cash. This all down to being able to putt with the flag in.

Of course, I’m glad that Adam has found something that works for him, but it’s difficult to avoid thinking about all the other players, his competitors who have worked hard to master the old art of putting, only to have their advantage removed by a change in the rules. This sort of thing has happened before – consider for example, the plight of traditionally strong drivers like Greg Norman, who had their advantage nullified when smaller-headed persimmons got replaced by more forgiving, bigger and metal alternatives – and rule changes are always going to create winners and losers. Still, there’s something about putting with the flag in that just rankles. The golfing purists in me rebels.

Conclusion

Ultimately, then, I don’t think I can countenance the new rule change; for it takes away from rather than adds to our beautiful game. How often do we hear amateurs and pros lamenting the too-sameness of the so-called 'target golf' that's become the norm in America, comparing it unfavourably to the quirkier sort of golf that is played on a British links? Well, isn’t putting with the flag in versus putting with the flag out the same thing? Both target golf and an ever-present flagstick make playing golf easier, but reduce its excitement, personality and intrigue. Please safeguard the integrity of our wonderful sport, and pull that flagstick out!


Do you agree with Will's thoughts on the new rule? Let us know!


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