Flagstick in or out? The data doesn’t lie

The new golf rule for 2019 that has possibly gotten the most attention and scrutiny is the option to leave the flagstick in when putting. The debate has been whether it helps or hurts. We have the answer.

Thanks to My Golf Spy

My Golf Spy is, in my personal definition, “The Consumer Reports of golf.” I am a fan of objective testing, regardless of the subject matter, and they provide that service in the golf arena.

Recently, they decided to run an innovative, and in my opinion, ingenious test regarding the advantages and disadvantages of leaving the flagstick in (or out) when putting.

As anyone who follows golf knows by now, some pros, such as the Mad Scientist Bryson DeChambeau, have announced they will keep the stick in whenever possible. Others, such as past PGA Champion Justin Thomas, has said the look is just too strange and they will continue to leave the flagstick out. But the fundamental question for the great majority of amateur golfers is, “What will help save strokes in our game?”

The Test

The folks at My Golf Spy tested putts with speeds that would roll 3-feet, 6-feet, and 9-feet past the hole if they didn’t actually hit the hole (or flagstick). This makes sense. A putt that doesn’t get to the hole doesn’t go in regardless of whether the stick is in or not (duh). And a putt that falls in the hole on its last roll or two will go in, again, flagstick or no flagstick.

However, the “stick-in, stick-out” debate has always boiled down to this: Does the flagstick allow the ball to deflect IN the hole, or does the stick deflect the ball OUT of the hole? This is what the My Golf Spy testers wanted to learn.

The Data

As you can see, there are actually two tests. One, with the more typical thin flagstick that we are used to seeing on most courses (the low COR stick), and one with a thicker flagstick that is often found on courses with really windy conditions that allow it to stand up to the elements (the high COR stick).

In both tests and cases, leaving the flagstick in is clearly more beneficial, especially on putts that are struck much too firmly. I was amazed at the difference in putts that would have rolled six feet beyond the hole. Just using the low COR flagstick data, every single putt that was dead center drops in the hole with the flagstick in; but only 35% would go in with the flagstick out. And on putts that were struck much too hard, i.e., those that would have finished nine feet past the hole, even 80% of those fall in with the stick left in, vs. a measly 5% that fall in if the stick is out.

You can read the rest of the data for yourself in the charts. It is clear that Bryson, being the research-minded technician that he is, has latched onto something that will make a difference.

It also begs some questions that I’m sure the USGA and PGA will be following throughout the season. How will putting stats compare to previous years? When the stick will act as a backstop and help putts drop, how will the stats for 10- and 20- foot putts compare to previous years? What will that do to overall scores? Will leaving the flagstick in cause more players to become bolder putters?

What it means for you and me

There is no question that leaving the flagstick in is not only going to save a few minutes during a round of golf, but is most likely going to save a few strokes as well.

Hope this helps you and your game! Thanks for reading, and enjoy Shooting Your Age!

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