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Why does something I’ve been doing on a golf course my entire life suddenly feel so surreal?

For Steve Carroll, and many others, getting back into old habits is going to take some getting used to
 

It’s a little bit scary how you become conditioned into doing something. How was Flagstick Day for you? For me, it was a bit weird.

Covid restrictions on the golf course have finally ended across much of the UK. You can touch and take out a flag again without sanction, and yet I went through much of my first round since the changes forgetting to do precisely that.

I’ve spent a chunk of the last 16 months silently grumbling and waiting for the moment I could address a putt without fearing the pole was going to deflect the ball from its path.

Yet when the time finally arrived, recent habit took over – as it did for everyone else in my playing group.

So much of what we do on the golf course is largely unconscious. I don’t have to think about marking a ball on the green, I just do it automatically. (Well, most of the time.)

Now, at least until muscle memory kicks in once more, I must actively think about removing the flag from the hole. It was an odd sensation.

Is that just me? If you also forgot and then reached down into the hole to pick the ball out, did you get a momentary surprise at how deep the cup was without that liner in place?

The biggest surprise, though, was how much better I suddenly was at short putts on the rare occasions I did remember to detach it. Standing over a four-footer without the flag in place, my target suddenly looked huge. I’ll be happy if that’s a feeling that doesn’t fade anytime soon.

I’m sure there are people who will continue to putt with the flagstick in place – it’s just something they’re now comfortable with – and the controversy that came when the Rules of Golf changed at the start of 2019 will now be a thing of the past.

But isn’t it nice to have the choice again? Roll on the rest of summer, and those putts finding the bottom of a flagless hole.

So how was it for you? Were you straight back into the habit with flagsticks and rakes or has it taken you a while to get used to it? Let me know in the comments, or tweet me.

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Steve Carroll

Steve Carroll

A journalist for 25 years, Steve has been immersed in club golf for almost as long. A former club captain, he has passed the Level 3 Rules of Golf exam with distinction having attended the R&A's prestigious Tournament Administrators and Referees Seminar.

Steve has officiated at a host of high-profile tournaments, including Open Regional Qualifying, PGA Fourball Championship, English Men's Senior Amateur, and the North of England Amateur Championship. In 2023, he made his international debut as part of the team that refereed England vs Switzerland U16 girls.

A part of NCG's Top 100s panel, Steve has a particular love of links golf and is frantically trying to restore his single-figure handicap. He currently floats at around 11.

Steve plays at Close House, in Newcastle, and York GC, where he is a member of the club's matches and competitions committee and referees the annual 36-hole scratch York Rose Bowl.

Having studied history at Newcastle University, he became a journalist having passed his NTCJ exams at Darlington College of Technology.

What's in Steve's bag: TaylorMade Stealth 2 driver, 3-wood, and hybrids; TaylorMade Stealth 2 irons; TaylorMade Hi-Toe, Ping ChipR, Sik Putter.

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