Dave Pelz published an article today in which he says this:
The test results were conclusive: You will hole a higher percentage of putts when you leave the flagstick in.
The hits just keep on coming. From shortly before Christmas, we got this gift:
Flagstick in or out? I conducted my own quasi-scientific test
I built a ramp to create repeatable path and distance and rolled over 2,500 putts.
Full write-up to come in the next few days.
I will leave it in a good chunk of the time! pic.twitter.com/PsL65BopIS
— Lou Stagner (Golf Stat Pro) (@LouStagner) December 23, 2018
The Cliffs Notes at the end give it away: leave the flagstick in. It’s going to help you.
On January 16, we got a study from MyGolfSpy. Their conclusion: “Leave the pin in.”
The USGA and R&A, in proposing this Rule change, said that there “should be no advantage in being able to putt with the unattended flagstick in the hole.” They were wrong, and every study we’ve seen reaches the same conclusion: leaving the flagstick in is advantageous. Dave Wedzik and I conducted a study. Lou Stagner conducted a study. Dave Pelz has conducted two studies, in 1990 and in 2018. Others have conducted studies. They all reach the same conclusion: Leaving the flagstick in generally provides an advantage.
To golfers looking to shoot the lowest score, this is our advice:
- If the flagstick is leaning so much that a ball can’t fit* or it’s whipping around in the hole due to high winds, take it out from short range or have it tended from long range (the flagstick and the person tending it can help with distance perception). These situations are incredibly rare.
- If you’re certain that you can control the ball speed to within about 3′ past the hole (at stimp 9.5), there’s no difference, so do whatever you like. A few of every hundred putts that would have gone in will be kept out, but about an equal number of putts that would have popped out will go in. There’s no real net advantage or disadvantage.
- For every foot that your ball has the potential to roll further than 3′ past the hole, the advantage of leaving the flagstick in grows. Balls that would miss will go in or stay closer to the hole than they otherwise would have.
In other words, if you face a 40-foot putt, leave or put the flagstick in. Put the flagstick in if you have a very slippery downhill 15′ putt that could roll well past the hole. Put the flagstick in when you want to take away some of the break on a tricky four footer – plus the flagstick will give you more specific points at which to aim. For almost everything else, do as you like.
Putting with the flagstick in is an advantage. Use it.
* The 2019 Rules define a ball leaning against the flagstick as holed if any part of the ball is below the surface of the green, so even a flagstick leaning toward you so much that a ball won’t fit may not even be a good reason to pull the pin anymore, as a flagstick leaning toward you a little bit actually aids you even more as it deflects the ball downward and into the hole. This may actually just leave high winds as a time to take the flagstick out of the hole.
Edit: later in the day, we found this video, published December 26, 2018:
MGS created this video:
A brief aside on the Rules of Golf, the USGA, and the R&A:
We generally don’t find fault with much that these two organizations do. We find fault here, because they seemingly enacted a rule based on no actual information. We don’t feel that the USGA or R&A ever actually tested whether leaving the flagstick in provided an advantage or disadvantage, because we’re confident that had they done so, they would have found that there was an advantage.
We submitted feedback to the USGA as soon as we saw the Rule proposed, and we ran “flagstickrule.com” for a year to further oppose this proposed Rules change.
We can also see, if there was no advantage, how this Rules change might speed up the game, as it would allow someone who chipped close to just tap in, and would allow someone 50′ away to putt without fear of penalty while their playing companion finishes raking a bunker or something. Unfortunately, since there is an advantage, we fear the opposite may be true: this Rules change will slow down play. Think about – rather than taking the flagstick out once per green, and replacing it when everyone has holed out, smart golfers who realize and want to use the advantage putting with the flagstick in offers them will be replacing the flagstick when they putt from 28′ away after their buddy took it out from 32′. The flagstick might be taken out and replaced multiple times per hole, 18 times per round. That’s going to take much more time than the rare occasions when someone wanted to tap in or putt from 50′ away while their buddies were too busy doing other things to tend or pull the flagstick.
The USGA/R&A get a double bogey here, and it’ll be interesting to see how long this Rules change lasts.
P.S. PGA Tour players are quite often dumb. Don’t listen to what they say – they’re great at what they do, and the “stigma” on Tour of putting with the flagstick in may take awhile to overcome. There are a lot of factors at play. The one Tour player who isn’t dumb to this stuff, who looks for every advantage afforded to him, without worrying about stigma at all? Bryson DeChambeau. And he’s already on record as saying he’s going to putt with the flagstick in pretty often.