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Bad breaks

Ignoring science, pro suffers a brutal rejection when his putt clanks off flagstick

May 27, 2023

Viktor Hovland lines up his putt on the sixth hole in the third round of the Charles Schwab Challenge.

Eston Parker III

Sorry to say we told you so, Viktor Hovland, but … we told you so.

This past January, Golf Digest republished a story first reported in 2019 about the research performed by Tom Mase, a professor of mechanical engineering at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo. Mase, a long-time member of the Golf Digest Hot List Technical Advisory Council, sought to answer the question of whether it was better to leave the flagstick in or pull it for putting after the governing bodies allowed players to keep the flag in should they choose to do so. Mind you, the research was completed before nearly everyone left the pin in during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mase’s conclusion was unequivocable, saying that 99.9 percent of the time the flagstick should be taken out. Why? Because the research showed that only 28 percent of putts will strike the middle of the flagstick (and not all will go in, of course), while 72 percent will catch some portion of it, leading to the likelihood that the ball will clang off the stick and away from the hole.

That hasn’t stopped numerous PGA Tour and LPGA pros from leaving the pin in, and that group includes major champions Matt Fitzpatrick, Adam Scott and Brooke Henderson. This week in the Charles Schwab Challenge, Englishman Harry Hall—one of the best putters on tour—is using the method while contending.

Golf Digest re-posted the story again in January because, in the final round of The American Express, PGA Tour rookie Davis Thompson saw his 48-foot birdie putt on the 17th hole carom off the flagstick and out. In hindsight, it was a killer break. Thompson lost by one shot to Jon Rahm.

No doubt there have been other ricochets this season, but none of that profile. Still, when it happens to a highly ranked player in the world, it’s going to get some attention, and that’s why Hovland is in the spotlight today.

Coming off contending to the end in last week’s PGA Championship, the World No. 6 is in the weekend mix at Colonial Country Club, tied for sixth after a third-round 66 on Saturday. Hovland is five off the lead, and let’s hope he doesn’t lose by one after what happened on the par-3 sixth hole.

Hovland does not usually leave the flag in, but for whatever reason, he did so for his 36-foot birdie putt. As a video shows, the Norwegian read perfectly the double-breaking putt, but the ball had some speed on it when it got to the hole. It thumped against the stick, caught the lip of the hole and spun away. Rough. Really rough.

The clip doesn’t catch Hovland’s reaction, but it had to be one of agony.

So, we’ll remind everyone of Tom Mase’s research and again say: Leave the flagstick in at your scorecard’s peril.