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Grouchy Golf Blog

Tuesday, September 28, 2004 at 10:15 AM

Golfers, Leave That Flag In!

Ever since I started playing golf, I didn't quite understand why people took out the flagstick when they were off the green. Whenever golf announcers saw a pro pulling out the flag when off the green, they would always comment that the golfer was trying to hole it. But they would never offer any logical reasons.

I could understand wanting to pull the pin if it wasn't straight in, but not otherwise. To me it makes sense that you would want the stick in the hole to use as a backboard if the ball approached the hole too fast. However, I didn't question the widely-held pin-pulling practice since golfers much more accomplished than myself believed in it.

Thankfully, Dave Pelz, the mad scientist of golf, researched the effects of the flagstick on balls approaching the hole. He finally set the record straight, "Leave the flagstick in whenever the Rules allow, unless it is leaning so far toward you that the ball can't fit." I can finally sleep at night and write a golf blog without worry.

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Blogger Erik @ The Sand Trap said...

Yep. Ever since I read that study, what, ten years ago? Twelve? I have left the flagstick in when chipping or putting from off the green. It helps with distance perception as well, I think.  

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Blogger Tom G. said...

I think that the skill level of your chipping should determine whether or not you leave the pin in. If you have trouble controlling your speed, I think it is best to leave the pin, for backstop purposes. But if you are good enough to control your speed, I really think you are better leaving it out. Pelz didn't really break it down by speed (he tested it that way, but didn't tell us what the trends were), but I am willing to bet that the pin becomes a detriment to chips that are the right speed.  

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Blogger Golf Grouch said...

Tom, I don't know whether the speed of the ball matters, which is what Pelz impies. From a physics standpoint, the flagstick should not prevent a ball from going into the hole that would have gone in without the flagstick.  

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Blogger Jat said...

I guess I should step in here.

Assuming standard ball (diameter=1.68in) and hole (diameter=4.25in) sizes, I estimate that the max speed the ball could be traveling in order to go in the hole is around 5.4 ft/sec without the pin.

With the pin in the question gets a lot harder. At that max speed I would guess that the ball would deflect off the pin and miss the hole if it hit the flag straight on. So yeah, given perfect accuracy, there's probably some speed where the ball would go in without the pin, but not with it.

The difference though is that you won't lip out of the hole if you're slightly off center. You can hit the side of the hole with the flag in and still make it, whereas the ball would pop out without it. Given that, I tend to leave the pin in to prevent being robbed, and also because I'm usually too lazy to walk over and pull it.  

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Blogger Golf Grouch said...

Since the flagstick will absorb some of the energy of the ball at impact, the ball will always deflect off the flagstick with less speed. This is how the flagstick helps keep the ball in the cup.  

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Blogger msthilaire said...

I always leave it in when i'm off the green, it's a no brainer for me.

Perhaps it's a mental thing for some, or some kind of superstition. As if leaving it in the pin suggests you intend your shot to be less than ideal and therefore it needs a pin to stop it from skittering off the green and into the sandtrap.  

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Anonymous Don said...

Whenever I'm off the green with a putter in my hand I usually take it out, but if I'm chipping then I leave it in to take advantage of the flag stick stopping a chip too hard.  

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Blogger msthilaire said...

The basis of pelsz' experiment was all statistics. You are statistically more likely to make it with the flag in.

Basically he rolled the ball towards the hole at all different angles and speeds.

There may be a couple of rare situations where the ball might hit the flagstick and not go in when it otherwise would have. However there are many many many more situations where it does go in when it normally wouldn't have.

The people who leave the stick in are probably the same people who think they can beat blackjack by hitting on 'feel' rather than hitting based on the statistically correct thing to do (aka Perfect Blackjack). Eventually the odds catch up to you.  

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Anonymous alan said...

Dave's right about whenever the rules allow, but always take it out and put it waaay aside when your ball rests on the green. If your ball hits the flagstick during a putt, even if the flag is on the ground, it's a penalty.  

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

It depends on if I know I can stop it or not. If I feel like I can hole the shot from off the putting surface I'm pulling the pin. However, if the shot is running away or I have a bad lie, I'm going to leave the stick in.  

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Golf Magazine did a study of 30,000 chips and putts from off the green. Their study showed you have a 50% better chance with the pin in than out. Here's the proof. Why do the rules say you have to take it out when you are on the green? Obviously it's considered an advantage.  

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

From personal experience I have seen more balls prevented from going in the hole by a flagstick than I have ones that would have been stopped and dropped by the stick  

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Blogger GLG said...

I think an important issue is the lean of the flag. Many times a pin is leaning one way or another, and I'm pretty sure it's against the Rules to adjust it before a shot (though I would love clarification of that). If it's leaning toward you, and there's not enough room for the ball to drop straight in, I tend to remove it. If it's straight or leaning away, I'll leave it in. I've had perfect chips deflect away when it's leaning toward me. But it depends on the slope of the green too. If it's bending left or right, a forward leaning pin might give you the room on the side or back to let the ball in. That's what i love about the game, so many variables to crunch in a short amount of time and trying to make the smartest decision... which is also one of the reasons I sometimes hate the game! : )  

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

No serious golfer should disagree with Pelz conclusions for what to do with the flagstick unless they have scientific data to back it up. Some of the commenter’s have missed the point that statistical data wins the arguments over memories of great chipping moments, or how a person “feels,” regarding the potential outcome of pulling or leaving in the flagstick. The only person here, who had anything close to a valid argument and who disagreed with Pelz conclusions, was Tom G. He was wise enough to insist on more specific data but was willing to bet against existing data that should apply, even to golfer of his incredible skill level. Of course Tom may be a little full of himself. I love it when people think that they are above solid research conclusions. Isn’t that just golf faith? I have not done a statistical study on faith but maybe Tom should accept that he is good at hole-outs due to his confidence with the pin out, in spite of the statistical data from Pelz. The point is that he is confusing confidence with science. Imagine if he could take advantage of both. But if he still wants to bet against a potential statistical data void by always pulling the flag, then I feel he will go to golf heaven 6.3 percent of the time—and I am willing to bet on that.  

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

On windy days I want the pin out if Im chipping because we've had enough cases of a ball going into the hole only to be pinched back out because of the wind blowing the flag.  

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