There's a reason golfers take the flagstick out of the cup when every golfer's ball in their group is on the putting surface. For as long as anyone could remember, the Rules of Golf say it's illegal to strike the flagstick with the ball while it's in the cup when putting a ball that was struck on the green.
Under the new golf rules debuting in 2019, however, golfers will be able to putt with the flagstick in the hole without fear of incurring a penalty stroke.
Flagstick in or out?
With the 2019 Rules of Golf, golfers will have three options when putting a ball from the green (and those options will be the same no matter whether a ball is struck from the green or not):
- Putt with the flagstick in the cup the entire putt, chancing the flagstick could help the ball go in the hole;
- Putt with someone tending the flagstick, then pulling the flagstick at any putt during the putt;
- Putt with the flagstick out of the hole, placed off to the side and out of the way.
Why make the change?
The USGA and R&A have determined that there isn't much of a long-term statistical perspective, it won't make much difference if the flagstick is in or out when a golfer putts. On balance, the flagstick will help some putts and hurt some others. However, top-ranked professional golfer Bryson DeChambeau will putt with the flagstick in beginning in 2019, believing the physics of a golf ball colliding with most flagsticks will be an advantage compared to removing it. DeChambeau says the flagstick's coefficient of restitution -- a measure of how much energy is transferred from objects at impact -- is helpful for a moving golf ball.
This is one of the more controversial changes to the Rules of Golf. It didn't seem that way at first, but DeChamebeau's new strategy presents a potential problem. Golfers in a group may vary in their opinion of whether they want the flagstick in, as well the situations and distances when they want it in the cup. Caddies may have to play a game of Pass the Baton just to keep up with players' decisions.
Whether or not putting with the flagstick in helps the average golfer make more putts, the USGA and R&A hope being able to leave it in without penalty will help speed up play. Golfers won't have to take out the flagstick and put it back in the cup. Just leave the flagstick in, putt quickly and keep going.