Lately, there has been lots of talk, again, about whether a golfer should take the flagstick out or leave it in when putting. Many golfers believe this was a change since the pandemic, however, it was a USGA rule change that took place in 2019. Prior to that rule change, it was a 2-stroke penalty if a golfers ball struck the flagstick when putting.
As it is with many things involved in golf, it really comes down to personal preference. If a golfer feels more confident putting with the flag in then they should probably keep it that way. Golfers over a certain age that were used to the rule of removing the flagstick may prefer to keep it out, as that is what they are accustomed to doing when putting.
I am one of those golfer that was used to taking the flag out my entire life. I would even do it on chip shots so the flag would not get in the way. It was frustrating during the pandemic not to take it out but by doing so I was able to test the new rule and that is what these 3 reasons to leave it in are based on. Before I get to those reasons there have been studies that show a benefit either way. Golf Digest wrote an article in January 2023 titled: The science behind why the flagstick should be pulled 99.9% of the time. When the rule changed in 2019 there was an article from Golf.com about a different study: Dave Pelz: The science proves you should leave the flagstick in when you putt. Both claim science is the result of why one way is better than the other but they can not both be right, can they?
I was always taught to take the flagstick out when chipping so why would the thought process be any different when putting? The main reason for doing this on chip shots is because a chip shot would supposedly roll at a different speed than a putt and may not be a center strike on the flagstick so you want as much hole for the ball to fall in as possible. That may be true but that is not the main reason I would take the flag out 70% of the time on chips and why I prefer it out on almost every putt. The only exception would be putting over 50ft when I can't see the hole that well and I am just trying to lag it up close for a 2-putt.
So what are my non-scientific reason to take the flag out?
All Flagsticks Are Not Equal - Not all flagsticks are the same size or diameter. Although most have a tapered bottom leaving more space between the edge of the hole, many others do not. Some are made of different materials as well. You may encounter a flagstick with a wider diameter made of steel that, 90% of the time, it will most likely make the ball ricochet off it. Then you may come across an aluminum flagstick that will in a way deaden the ball when impacted which could help it fall in the hole easier. If you are used to taking the flagstick out of the hole you do not have to worry about the diameter or the material.
Weather/Wind - Just as we can't control many things in life a gust of wind is one of them. Besides the distraction aspect of the flag moving while trying to putt and a gust of wind could cause the flagstick itself to move. Depending on the wind direction it may help but just imagine you hit a perfect putt then a gust of wind suddenly blows the flag making the stick bend toward your ball right as it is about to drop. Your ball then hits the flagstick and stays out of the hole. Bad luck? Maybe. Or it could have been prevented by not having anything that can obstruct your perfect putt.
The Cup and Other Golfers - The cup may be leaning or a golfer before you didn't put the flagstick back properly. Of course, you can always walk up and check the cup and make sure the flagstick is standing as straight up as possible but even then it may not be enough. We have all experienced other golfers not putting the flagstick back in the hole properly which leaves it loose and could nearly fall over. If you don't check the hole you wouldn't know. That is not the biggest problem caused by other golfers though. some golfers may attempt to put the flagstick back in and miss the center of the cup. One or two golfers may not make much of a difference but if 30 or 40 golfers before you all hit the cup they are moving the cup ever so slightly. This will cause the flag to lean over time. Maybe a golfer slammed the flagstick back in or when they went to take it out they pulled the cup with it. All factors out of your control that can cause a putt to bounce off the flagstick. Sometimes it is golf course maintenance that may cut the holes crooked.
If you needed a fourth reason many of the best players in the world take the flagstick out anytime they are trying to hole out a chip shot or when putting. Many of them you will still see their caddy tend the flag when they are over a certain distance. Look at the PGA Tour putting stats and the guys with the least putts per round, to my knowledge, all take the flag out. The same may be true with the LPGA Tour putting stats. The highest-ranked name I know for sure leaves the flag in is Brooke Henderson and she is ranked 68th in putting. I'll be honest I do not see every golfer on both tours putt and I may be wrong. However, the majority of the top names for putting on both tours I don't think I have seen them leave the flagstick in a single time.