The latest sideshow on the PGA Tour is watching the greatest golfers in the world play like they never heard there were any rules changes, and then saying how hard it is to remember to drop from knee-height instead of shoulder height.
Rocket scientists, they ain’t, apparently.
But rule causing the most discussion is the repeal of the two-stroke penalty for hitting the flagstick with a ball putted from the green.
That penalty was adopted in 1968. I started playing in about 1960, when you could leave the pin in, and no one seemed to mind. If you have access to old All-Star Golf videos you can see pros putting while the pin is still in and not being tended. I can’t find the reason why the rule was changed in 1968, but it’s history now.
The USGA alleges that keeping the pin in can speed up play. I would agree with that to some extent. When I play a solo round, I never take the pin out. It speeds up play considerably by not having to walk up to the pin, take it out, lay it (not drop it!) on the green, and walk back to my ball to hit my approach putt.
It’s true that for long approach putts, you get a better sense of how far away the hole is, but you got the same sense in the “old” days by having someone tend the pin. It’s just now you don’t have to take the time to ask. Just putt.
In a foursome, though, what if some players want the pin left in and others want it taken out? Catering to each player’s desires, which they have every right to insist on, could end up taking MORE time when putts get shorter.
As far as scoring goes, leaving the pin in helps you considerably in two ways.
First, it gives you something positive to aim at. Aiming at a hole is trying to hit something that isn’t there. In Better Recreational Golf, I discuss this point on pages 54-55.
Second, the pin acts as a backstop. This is where the controversy lies.
Recently, Edoardo Molinari, brother of 2019 British Open champion Francesco Molinari, did a series of experiments testing the effect of the pin on putts of different lengths and different speeds. His answer is, it depends.
As you might imagine, Dave Pelz also weighed in. He thinks you should always leave the pin in when you putt.
I agree with Pelz, mainly because my putts don’t approach the hole like a freight train. Any putt of mine that hits the pin will go in, not bounce away.
At what distance to the hole does it become silly to leave the pin in? I don’t think three feet is too close, especially if the putt is a downhill breaker. Again, having something positive to aim at makes a bigger difference than you might expect.
What I would suggest is to leave the little pin in the hole on the practice green and find out for yourself if you benefit or not.
Finally, if you play with someone who is a real stickler for leaving the pin in, and you think it’s being carried too far, show some respect and go along with it. It’s their golf, it’s how they want to play within the rules. What we really want to get out of golf is having fun with friends and making everyone glad that we played with them. Right?
[Update] See this site for some solid data on the subject–the verdict is, leave it in.