• Take it out

    Matt Wallace take out the flag
    New rule headache

    I don’t know about you, but one of golf’s new rules is giving me sleepless nights.

    I’m OK with dropping the ball from knee height instead of shoulder height. It addresses the unfair advantage given to the vertically challenged golfer – TV’s Neil Andrews springs to mind, the world’s tallest dwarf – who, being closer to the ground, could control the drop better than normal-sized people.

    I’m OK with moving loose impediments in bunkers, repairing spike marks on the greens and counting a double hit as one shot. All these things contain a grain of logic, but something deep inside me cannot come to terms with leaving the flag in the hole.

    Taking out the flag is a fundamental part of the game I play. It would never occur to low-handicappers, but the flag is of vital importance in the event that you have already played seven shots before reaching the green. In such circumstances, removing the flag on behalf of others in your group is a way of validating your continued presence. I have been known to run on to the green, shouldering caddies aside, to perform this vital task.

    Elsewhere, the simple phrase, ‘In or out?’ can be a valuable ice-breaker. You may, for instance, be playing foursomes, have put your partner in a horrendous position with a fluffed chip, and those three little words could pour oil on troubled waters. Alternatively, given the shot you have just played, taking out the flag should remove you comfortably beyond the distance most amateurs are capable of throwing a club.

    Removing the pin is vitally important when playing with strangers. I like to carry it out of harm’s way and lower it to the ground with my putter. Done properly, this action alone can be enough to cut three or four shots off your handicap in the eyes of the gullible. Equally, during Masters week it is permissible to put the flag on your shoulder at an insouciant angle while offering putting advice. It is, in short, what actors would recognise as a prop, an inanimate object that has a vital effect on the action around it.

    I once played with a couple of fellows at Fancourt who took great exception to the fact my caddie did not wrap the flag material around the shaft to stop it flapping while they were lining up their putts. I sympathised with them, wondered internally how they might somehow get a life, and gave my caddie an extra-large tip as my partner and I walked off the 16th green with a 3 & 2 victory in the bag.

    I wonder how those two chaps are coping with an environment that allows flags to flap away in a concentration-destroying manner throughout the long journey across the putting surface?

    It should have died down by now, but I find there are still plenty of golfers keen on appraising me that they are aware of the rule changes while wondering if I am equally blessed. It is these people who make a point of saying, ‘It’s OK, you’re allowed to leave it in now,’ whose faces I love to watch when a six-foot putt, struck a fraction firmly, bounces back towards them off the flagstick.

    – Andy Capostango is a monthly columnist for Compleat Golfer; this is his June offering

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