In this edition of Fourball I’m joined by Steve Carroll, Alex Perry and James Savage to discuss golf’s hottest topic of 2019 so far – putting with the flag in…
Will you be putting with the flag in?
Steve: I’ve already put putting with the flag in, to the test in a competition and, from any range outside of 20 feet, I left it in. I actually found it made lag putting easier – because it felt like I was aiming to a bigger target. If it’s a short putt, though, it came out. That was to save time as much as anything. If everyone is four feet from the hole, who is going to be the idiot that asks for the flag to be left in?
Alex: I read recently that something like one in 10 putts outside 20 feet are made on the PGA Tour, so you can take a pretty good stab at what that number is at our level. I’ve no problem putting with the flag in from distance, and if I roll it up to gimme range I will tap in with the flag still there. Otherwise I’m with Justin Thomas.
James: Think I’ll leave it in to save time and hassle. I can see far more potential benefits to leaving the flag in than taking it out. When I play on my own, which can be quite a lot, I never take the flag out so it’ll be like business as usual for me.
My verdict: If there’s a chance that I’ll hit it 10 feet past then I’ll leave it in the hope that it might clatter into it and give me a chance of two putts. My big thing for 2019 is to take my hands off the reins a little when it comes to putting and not lag every single putt outside four feet. So the flag’s coming out whenever possible and the full visuals, as Poulter would say, will be on seeing the putt drop in the bottom of the cup.
Do you anticipate falling out with your playing partners over putting with the flag in?
Alex: Probably not. I could only foresee an issue if I wanted it out and they didn’t want to take it out, in which case I would just go and remove it and tell them where to go. And how often is that going to happen?
Steve: Get a difficult customer in matchplay and I imagine there will be some shenanigans. But there was never a cross word in my group when we put this into practice at the weekend. Once it became clear that I was likely to be the player putting with flag in, I simply Ready Golfed it once we got onto the green.
James: I can see people being funny if they are putting with the flag in and I make no movement to take the flag out. “Are you going to get that for me?” No. Could be used for mind games in matchplay.
My verdict: I sort of hope that most people will just take it out when we get in the 10-foot kill zone, if not I anticipate all manner of awkward situations where I have to break off from my well-trained pre-shot routine to whip it out. I was terrible at asking for the sight screen to be moved in cricket and I’m visualising this being equally as awkward.
If you could go back to 2018, would you?
James: No. I think it’s a really good rule for speeding up play. People waiting to putt from the back of the green while someone else thins a chip from the front edge into a bunker is bonkers. Take your putt while they are at least making their way into the bunker so when they finally get it onto the dancefloor everyone else just has to tap their ball in rather than still having 60 footers. The aim should be to clear the green as quickly as possible.
Steve: No. Anything that gives a golfer choice has to be a good thing. You’ll always get the player who takes it to an extreme, just as you get the player that takes 15 practice swings and takes liberties with their lies. Some people are just jerks but that shouldn’t define the boundaries for everyone.
Alex: God no. How many times in a round were you left with a 20, 30, 40-foot putt that you’d spend a few moments eyeing up from every angle only to realise the flag was still in and completely destroy your rhythm? It can’t just be me that happened to. Now it doesn’t matter.
My verdict: I’d go back to 1975 so I’d definitely go back to 2018. In 40 years of playing I had never once considered this to be a problem. It’s a nice part of the game tending the pin, having a look at how putts are rolling and just doing things right. The only upshot is how badly people generally tend the flag but that was a small price to pay.
For more on the rules check out www.randa.org