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The Argument for Leaving the Flag In

I first wrote about whether to leave the flagstick in back in 2020 after the rule had changed saying it was now optional to pull it when on the putting green.  This is still a question with every new group you play with – some leave it in and some take it out.

The question was hardly resolved on the 18th green of the U.S. Open this past Sunday where winner Matt Fitzpatrick made his final putts with the flagstick in, as he always does, and runner-up Will Zalatoris, as he always does, had it removed.

Last week, my friend My sent me an article she recently saw in Golf Digest about why you should take the flagstick out 99.9% of the time.  This study dispels previous data in support of keeping the flagstick in.

My and I play a lot of golf together, so suffice it to say we talk the same golf language.  Inevitably when we play with others, we come across those doing the Fitzpatrick-Zalatoris dance.  I always say to those non-believers that the hole is one square inch larger without the flag— the hole is made effectively LARGER.

According to the Golf Digest article, Tom Mase, professor of mechanical engineering and former associate chair of the department of mechanical engineering at California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly), performed a study indicating you should take the flagstick out.  For much of his 30 years plus, Mase worked for both Callaway and Titleist.


I don’t want to get into the weeds here, but Mase writes:

“There is zero evidence to suggest that the flagstick helps in any but the rarest of situations. What the flagstick may do is occasionally reduce the length of a second putt and therefore possibly help reduce three-putts.”

Think: you smash a rocket putt 10 feet past the hole.

But thanks to deflections off the flagstick from slightly off-center putts, which is what most amateurs do, leaving the flagstick in “will clearly and substantially reduce the number of one-putts.”  

Perhaps the best benefit to leaving the flagstick in is the optics – distance perception, Mase reports.  “Several sports vision experts we contacted suggested there would be such benefits especially from longer distances, and noted putting instructor Mike Shannon said his research suggested players read greens better because the flagstick acted as a plumb line.  So the obvious solution might be to have the flagstick attended.”

I sure hope this article helps you make one or two more putts.  As they say, it all comes down to putting!

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