News & Opinion

Flagstick in or out? Hawk & Rude jostle for pole position

The Portland Classic:  Second Round
29 August 14 Stone dead in Portland, Oregon.(photo credit : kenneth e. dennis/

Jin Young Ko and an untold legion of amateurs would agree that using the pin while putting can help them achieve a banner day

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Longtime golf journalists John Hawkins and Jeff Rude are co-hosts of a weekly podcast, Hawk & Rude, in which they discuss and debate the hottest issues in golf. They also share their takes in this weekly installment.

How much of an effect has leaving the flagstick in the hole had on golf in 2019?

Hawk’s take: We’re talking about something that isn’t quantifiable, which doesn’t mean the answer is zero, but it’s pretty close. I don’t recall seeing a single putt this year that led me to believe that the ball went in the hole because the player chose not to remove the pin. If it helps the mathematicians (Bryson DeChambeau) and broomstick bearers (Adam Scott), more power to 'em, but DeChambeau failed to win a tournament in 2019 after four victories in 2018, and Scott hasn’t won anywhere in the world since the 2016 Florida Swing.

When you rank 161st on the PGA Tour in putting from inside 10 feet, as Scott did this past season, the problem isn’t going to be solved by leaving the pole in the hole. The guy missed more 3-footers at the PGA Championship than most tour pros miss in an entire summer. At the recreational level, the flagstick factor is a non-starter for me. If it helps the Saturday morning foursome ahead of you finish a few minutes earlier, fabulous, but you could lose that time next Saturday while they search for a lost ball.

Changing the rule was fine, a sensible alteration to a somewhat cockamamie collection of bylaws, but in terms of impacting the game? That never was going to happen. Good putters can roll it into a thimble. Bad ones can’t putt it into the ocean.

Rude’s take: Enormous impact, on a daily basis, all over the globe. Countless golfers chose the option of leaving the flagstick in this year, and the recreational game benefitted as a result.

Based on my field studies of observing at a golf course four or five times a week, flagstick-in speeds up the game in a couple of ways. One, players in the group behind can get an early distance with their measuring devices. Two, time is saved on the green, with no more walking 40 feet to take out the pin and then 40 feet back to the ball. One junkie friend played 18 holes in 75 minutes. Your correspondent here never took the stick out and hopes never to touch it again. There seemed to be more benefit than harm when balls struck the pole.

Then there’s the matter of focus. Many were aided by being able to zoom in on more of a toothpick target.

Obviously professional tours weren’t affected as much, but loads on the LPGA putted with the pin in, including No. 1-ranked Jin Young Ko, even from short range. Then there’s Adam Scott, who improved from 165th to 31st in strokes-gained putting on the PGA Tour after the rule change and from 41 to 17 in the world ranking.