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Hitting the Flagstick
How to Manage the Pin

Learn when you should pull the pin, rules for tending it and when you can be penalized by striking it.  Managing the Flag

One would think that a rule as simple as "don't hit the flagstick with your ball while you are on the green" would be an easy rule to follow in the game of golf. Actually though, it is probably one of the most confusing and debated rules in the game. Search engines are loaded down on the internet with questions as to how to proceed with the flag when a player is on or off the green. The rule is actually lengthy and complex as it is is stated in the USGA Rules of Golf. Who should tend the flag? How should they tend it? Where should the flag be put when it's pulled out? Can you hit the flag when off the green if it's tended? How about if it's not being tended? There are just so many variables that can happen around the green and when dealing with multiple players in a group.

A lot of Variables

Let's first start by looking at the rule itself - Rule 17 from the USGA Rules Book:

"Before making a stroke from anywhere on the course, the player may have the flagstick attended, removed or held up to indicate the position of the hole. If the flagstick is not attended, removed or held up before the player makes a stroke, it must not be attended, removed or held up during the stroke or while the player's ball is in motion if doing so might influence the movement of the ball.

Note 1: If the flagstick is in the hole and anyone stands near it while a stroke is being made, he is deemed to be attending the flagstick.

Note 2: If, prior to the stroke, the flagstick is attended, removed or held up by anyone with the player's knowledge and he makes no objection, the player is deemed to have authorized it.

Note 3: If anyone attends or holds up the flagstick while a stroke is being made, he is deemed to be attending the flagstick until the ball comes to rest.

(Moving attended, removed or held-up flagstick while ball in motion - see Rule 24-1)

17-2. Unauthorized Attendance
If an opponent or his caddie in match play or a fellow-competitor or his caddie in stroke play, without the player's authority or prior knowledge, attends, removes or holds up the flagstick during the stroke or while the ball is in motion, and the act might influence the movement of the ball, the opponent or fellow-competitor incurs the applicable penalty.

*PENALTY FOR BREACH OF RULE 17-1 Or 17-2:

Match play - Loss of hole; Stroke play - Two strokes.

*In stroke play, if a breach of Rule 17-2 occurs and the competitor's ball subsequently strikes the flagstick, the person attending or holding it or anything carried by him, the competitor incurs no penalty. The ball is played as it lies, except that if the stroke was made on the putting green, the stroke is canceled and the ball must be replaced and replayed.

17-3. Ball Striking Flagstick Or Attendant
The player's ball must not strike:

a. The flagstick when it is attended, removed or held up;
b. The person attending or holding up the flagstick or anything carried by him; or
c. The flagstick in the hole, unattended, when the stroke has been made on the putting green.

Exception: When the flagstick is attended, removed or held up without the player's authority - see Rule 17-2.

PENALTY FOR BREACH OF RULE 17-3:

Match play - Loss of hole; Stroke play - Two strokes and the ball must be played as it lies.

17-4. Ball Resting Against Flagstick
When a player's ball rests against the flagstick in the hole and the ball is not holed, the player or another person authorized by him may move or remove the flagstick, and if the ball falls into the hole, the player is deemed to have holed out with his last stroke; otherwise, the ball, if moved, must be placed on the lip of the hole, without penalty."

When to Pull It

The gist of all of this is if you are on the green be sure to take the flag out or ask someone to tend it. If you hit the flag it's 2 stroke penalty in stroke play or loss of hole if you are in match play.

If you are off of the green there is no penalty if you hit the flag unless you ask someone to tend it and then they don't pull it out. So make sure that you are clear when you are off the green that you want someone to tend it and pull it as your ball nears. In most cases unless you really think you are going to make it or at least have a chance to, it's probably best to leave the pin in. If you think you are going to drain it pull it out so it won't deflect the ball. Short chips around the green or putts from the fringe can be made whereas a 40 yard pitch shot most likely won't be.

Something to note is that if someone is not tending the flag when you putt, they can't run up there and tend it after you have struck your putt if they think you are going to hit the flag. They would incur a penalty for doing so. However, if the flag is lying on the ground and someone moves the flag so the ball won't strike it, that is not a penalty. The flip side is what if you ask someone to pull it and they don't? Unfortunately you would actually incur the penalty unless it was intentional. If it is intentional and they tried to influence your ball or force you to get penalized then they will be disqualified.

Hopefully that helps clear up some of the common misconceptions when it comes to dealing with the flagstick. Although some of the rules may seem silly or unfair, a lot of thought has gone into them for hundreds of years and I have learned there is reason for everything when it comes to the rules of golf. Whether you are a beginner or an advanced player, it always helps to stay up on the rules and review them periodically so no questions arise during play.

Maria Palozola

Maria Palozola is a member of the LPGA and has participated in multiple LPGA Tour events. She has provided instruction to thousands of students in the past 20+ years and has won multiple teaching awards from the LPGA, Golf Digest, and Golf Magazine including being ranked as one of the top 50 female instructors in the world.

Who is Maria Palozola?
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