With many countries coming out of their lockdowns, golf courses have begun to reopen and I had the pleasure of playing in a tournament for the first time in over two years, due to injury and the Corona Virus. As we all know, golf courses are having to adapt as well and one of the protocols in place here is the flag must always stay in the hole and must not be touched by the players. Although putting with the flag in the hole has been around for some time now, the obligation to putt from a few feet, without removing the flag, was for me anyway, something that really created a feeling of unease.
Having always removed the flag, from anywhere on the green, the idea of putting from such close range with the flag in, made it difficult for me to follow my usual routine, and this had repercussions on the golf course and to my score. I didn´t putt well, especially the 3 to 6-foot range which for me is the “important” scoring range. Chatting with the other members of the foursome, who had all played with the new rules, the consensus of putting with or without the flag was divided. The two higher handicappers, said that to them it made little or no difference, but the lower handicapper felt a similar unease as I did. This led me to the conclusion that higher handicappers actually feel more confident when putting with the flag in, which may suggest that they have a less than consistent pre-shot routine which helps them to get into the zone.
When the courses allow the flags to be removed at the choice of the player, it will be interesting to see how many players remove the flag for the scoring zone putts. I know that I will certainly be removing the flag when I am putting, and for no other reason than the hole appears larger and allows me to focus on a single tiny point at the back of the hole, something that I cannot do when the flag is in the hole. It should be noted that I regularly remove the flag when I am chipping as well, and for the same reason of increasing the space in which my ball can fall in.
Finally, the method of stopping the ball from falling into the cup has also had an affect on how I approach my putting. I have played a number of courses since the re-opening and I have seen various methods being used. I have to say that my least favourite is the plastic liner that sits on the cup, again creating the illusion that the hole is actually smaller than it is. My preferred method is a foam pipe insulation which wraps around the base of the flagstick and stops the ball from falling to the bottom of the hole. This gave me the sensation that the hole remained larger, therefore increasing my confidence.
I know for certain that when we are back to the “normal” way of playing golf I will be removing the flag when putting and I strongly recommend that you consider doing the same. Afterall if I asked you to putt into a hole half the size, you would probably feel more pressure.