Putting with the flagstick in, now allowed as part of myriad new rules, isn’t for everyone. Count three LPGA players who have been ranked No. 1 in the world — Cristie Kerr, Lydia Ko and Stacy Lewis, as well as former No. 2 Lexi Thompson–among those who prefer the stick out.
“Unless it’s from 70 feet, you’ll never see me putt with the flagstick in,” Kerr said at the inaugural Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions. “I like what I do on the greens. I’m just going to keep it that way.”
Kerr went so far as to say she would be surprised if anyone putted with the stick in during the 72-hole event, the LPGA’s first tournament of the 2019 season. That said, interestingly Kerr did make a long putt with the stick in during Thursday’s first round.
Ko and Thompson said the hole looks smaller with the flagstick in. “I don’t really know what that can help,” Thompson said. “I’ll never do it unless the putt’s really fast and I need the putt to stop.”
Lewis said she’ll stay with her routine, too, partly because “it seems strange to putt with the flagstick in.” She, though, likes the idea for improving pace in recreational golf.
On the other hand, current top-ranked player Ariya Jutanugarn is open to changing. “I don't have to wait for my caddie to take the pin out; I can just putt it,” Jutanugarn said. “Actually, I’ve practiced it a little bit.”
Flagsticks must be three quarters of an inch or less from 3 inches above the hole to the bottom of the cup. The flagsticks are a half inch in diameter at the Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions at Tranquilo Golf Course at Four Seasons.
Those top players also were queried about two other rules changes: A caddie is no longer being allowed to line up a player from behind when the player begins taking a stance, and dropping from knee height instead of from shoulder height.
Among these players, Ko will have to adjust the most because her caddie has lined her up for most of her career. “So this off-season, I've been practicing trying to line myself up,” Ko said. “It's something that you've just got to get used to. As with anything, it just takes time. Now I feel fine lining myself up when I'm on the range.”
The others like the change. Lewis called the no lining up the “greatest change.” Thompson said professional athletes should line themselves up. Kerr also called it “part of the game.”
“I’ve done it both ways,” Kerr said. “For ten years, I got lined up, and then I got to No. 1 player in the world by not getting lined up.”
Drops from the knee, they said, will be interesting to watch, come from an unnatural posture and sometimes will look funny. After all, not all knee heights are created equal.
“I actually practiced it (this week), believe it or not,” Kerr said. “How to do it, how the ball's going to bounce. Do you crouch and do it? How are you exactly supposed to do it? So we’re having a little rules meeting that a lot of us will go to to just brush up on it.”
Lewis is OK with the new drop but found the humor in it.
“Dropping from the knee looks funny, especially on those tall guys,” Lewis said. “Watching those tall guys on TV have to squat down looks kind of funny, but I think everybody's going to get used to it in time.”
Jutanugarn also cracked wise, saying that her sister, fellow LPGA player Moriya Jutanugarn, “is going to be cheating (because) her knees are low.” Moriya is 5-4.
Thompson also practiced dropping from the knee. Next, she plans to study and call in rules officials when in doubt.
“There are so many rules changes I’ve got to read them all,” Thompson said. “I’ve got to just ask before I do anything.”
The LPGA has been proactive in informing its players and caddies about the new rules for 2019. New rule books, posters and booklets that highlight new rules are part of that educational process. Also, all involved with receive several emails a week highlighting key changes and offering video. This week, four extra rules official were on site at the Tournament of Champions.
The tournament continues through Jan. 20 at Tranquilo Golf Course at Orlando’s Four Seasons Golf and Sports Club. www.golf/diamondresorts.com