After years of work, much discussion and debate, and six months of public feedback collected from golfers and officials around the world, 2019 has finally arrived and golf’s new Rules are in effect. The first events under the new Rules have been played, including the PGA Tour’s Sentry Tournament of Champions in Hawaii. We now have examples of the new Rules in action in tournament play and want to use this opportunity to highlight how some of the changes played out in real time, focusing not just on those that will affect play on the PGA Tour, but on those that will impact the game at all levels.
Putting with the Flagstick in the Hole
This change certainly has garnered the most attention. At its core, the Rule change now says that you can putt from the green with the flagstick in the hole and there will be no penalty if the ball strikes the flagstick. Most notably, Bryson DeChambeau took advantage of this change and made several putts with the flagstick in the hole, but so did others, such as Gary Woodland in the video below. While this change may have been made primarily to help speed up pace of play, it also presents a new strategic decision that players will have to make during play. Putting with the flagstick in the hole might look odd to many golfers now, but look for it to become standard over the coming weeks and months.
The most important item to note about this new Rule is that the decision to either 1) have the flagstick left in the hole or 2) have the flagstick removed (which includes having it attended) must be made before the stroke. Bubba Watson highlighted this in a video (also below). Here, Watson clearly made the decision to have the flagstick removed (attended) before making the stroke, but the ball ends up striking the flagstick, which was intentionally left in the hole. In this particular situation, the player would receive a two-stroke penalty in stroke play or a loss-of-hole penalty in match play. If the flagstick was attended and the player’s ball somehow accidentally struck the flagstick (or the person holding it), there would be no penalty. The key distinction in whether there is a penalty here is whether the action was accidental or deliberate.