Flagstick rule still being debated at all levels of golf  

Published 12:02 am Wednesday, May 31, 2023

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Golf’s complicated and sometimes tricky rules, at least for those who follow them to the letter of the law, can produce some cruel outcomes. One relatively new rule, however, offers an intriguing choice that continues to generate debate and differing philosophies.

That would be rule 13.2a (2) implemented by the USGA in 2019. After years of a one-stroke penalty for a putt from on the green hitting the flagstick, the penalty was dropped. Ostensibly to speed up play, golfers were given the option of putting with the flagstick in or out of the cup.

Influenced early on by COVID, a high percentage of players decided to putt at the flag. Over time, that number dropped off as more and more players determined that the ball had a better chance of going in with the flagstick removed.

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It has been far from a unanimous decision, however, and is continually debated on the professional tours. A handful of pros, including reigning U.S. Open champion Matt Fitzpatrick, continue to putt at the flagstick.

Harry Hall, an Englishman who should have won the Charles Schwab Colonial this past week in Fort Worth, rarely removed the flag. Earlier in the event, tour star Viktor Hovland was denied a birdie when the pin left in rejected a seemingly perfect putt.

In January, PGA Tour rookie Davis Thompson lost the American Express by one shot to Jon Rahm when his 48-foot birdie attempt on the 17th hole bounced off the flag. Every time it happens in a high-profile event, the debate restarts.

You may well play in a group where one or more players opt to leave the flagstick in the hole. You may do it yourself. My preference is to remove the flag nearly all the time. I don’t intend to get burned anymore. Others, though, will argue that the flag saves some putts going too hard.

For the record, a professor of mechanical engineering at Cal Poly named Tom Mase did extensive research using a perfect putter training aid, on the flag in, flag out controversy. Mase’s conclusion was unwavering.

He determined the flagstick should be removed 99.9 percent of the time. Among other things, his research showed only 28 percent of putts strike the middle of the flagstick and that many of those that don’t will bounce away from the hole.

Don’t say you haven’t been warned.

CHIP SHOTS: John Parent of Nederland continued the run on holes in one at Babe Zaharias on May 23 when he sank a 7-iron from 118 yards on No. 15. It was Parent’s second ace and the ninth at Zaharias in 2023.

Witnesses were Mark Lee, Brian Boudreaux and Joe Bennett.

Ou Olankitkunchai of Bangkok, Thailand, who played college golf at the University of Maryland, made a mockery of par at Beaumont Country Club in last week’s Fourth Annual Beaumont Emergency Hospital Open honoring Babe Zaharias.

Olankitkunchai shot rounds of 65-64-68-70 for a 21- under 267 and a 6-shot victory over Mary Parsons of Canada. The one-sided victory earned $15,000 and moved her to the top of the Women’s All-Pro Tour money list at $23,741.

So dominant was Olankitkunchai that the third and fourth place finishers were eight and 13 shots back, respectively . . .

Tonight is the night winners will be announced in the 13th annual Babe Zaharias High School Junior Golf Awards. There are four categories for boys and four for girls. Orangefield’s Xander Parks, on the strength of claiming the 3A boys state championship last week, is heavily favored to repeat as Boys Player of the Year.

Former Lamar University golf coach Brian White is the evening’s feature speaker for the ceremonies at 5 Under Golf Center.

There was a three-way tie on the front in the Monday Senior 50 Plus 2 ball at Babe Zaharias. Teams captained by Jerry May, Ed Holley and Keith Mullins all finished at minus 3. On the back, the foursome of Ron Carlin, Adam Davis, Steve Wisenbaker and Harrell Guidry won with 2 under.

Closest to the pin winners were Ted Freeman (No. 2, 5-0), Raymond Darbonne (No. 7, 4-2), Holley (No. 12, 3-0) and Gene Jones (No. 15, 6-5).

The Super Saturday 2 ball at Babe Zaharias saw the team of Terry Jones, Rusty Hicks, Don MacNeil and Larry Lee score a sweep. Thanks to six birdies by Hicks, they were 1 under on each side.

In the Friday 2 ball at Zaharias, the team of Earl Richard, Aubrey Ward, John Jesssen and Stu Ellis won the front with minus 2. On the back, the foursome of Doug LeBlanc, Wisenbaker, Jeremy Hemler and Keith Marshall prevailed with minus 4.

Closest to the pin winners were Bob Byerly (No. 2, 6-10), Wisenbaker (No. 7, 2-8), Hicks (No. 12, 3-7) and Dan Flood (No. 15, 4-11) . . .

The Wednesday Zaharais DogFight was played in an all-points-count format. Taking first with 31 points was the team of James Vercher, Larry Reece, Daniel Latalis and Jess McPhillips. Tied for second with 30 points were teams captained by Richard and Jones.

Closest to the pin winners were Wisenbaker (No. 2, 1-9), Ron LaSalle (No. 7, 1-7), Joe Gongora (No. 12, 8-4) and May (No. 15, 7-7) . . .

Golf News should be e-mailed to Bob West at rdwest@usa.net.