SAN DIEGO — Tiger Woods said that he’s known nothing else, that “my entire life it’s been two strokes,” and that getting used to putting with the flagstick in while on the green and not being penalized will take some time.
But Woods also said he’s been experimenting with the idea at home, believes there are instances where leaving the flagstick in could help, and that, for now, he might try doing so on longer putts where he’d normally not have the pin tended.
“On some of the longer putts, I like having [caddie] Joey [LaCava] there as a reference point, so the flag will be there,” Woods said at Torrey Pines, where he will play in his first event of the year at the Farmers Insurance Open. “Some of the putts where the hole is kind of visible, as it comes up over a rise, I can see it. But it would be nice to have a reference point, so I’ll probably leave it in for those kind of putts.
“I’ve been experimenting trying to hit putts downhill at home and see how that feels, and I didn’t find that I hit better putts. It just felt like I could hit it more aggressively, which I did. Then I started running it 8 or 9 feet by. It might be more advantageous when we get on faster greens, a little bit more slope, i.e. Augusta. Where you have that sense of security on a 3-footer, a 4-footer down the hill, you can just take a cut at it.”
Like many players, Woods is adjusting to a series of rules changes that were implemented by the United States Golf Association and R&A on Jan. 1.
Putting with the flagstick left in the hole has elicited numerous opinions. Previously, a player could only leave the flagstick in if he was off the green; hitting the stick with a putt from on the green was a two-stroke penalty.
Initially, Woods was not aware that a caddie tending the pin is required to remove it; he can’t judge the speed of the putt and elect to leave it in if he is there to tend it.
Bryson DeChambeau was one of the first to say he would putt with the flagstick in, acknowledging in the fall that he had done research on the matter.
“It depends on the COR, the coefficient of restitution of the flagstick,” said DeChambeau, a five-time PGA Tour winner who is playing this week in Dubai. “In U.S. Opens, I’ll take it out [because it is made of a different material]. And every other tour event, when it’s fiberglass, I’ll leave it in and bounce against the flagstick if I need to.”
Phil Mickelson experimented with it briefly last week at the Desert Classic but offered an example on a hole where he didn’t like how it impacted the way he hit the putt.
“It felt very uncomfortable,” Mickelson said. “I kind of eased into it thinking that if I hit it too hard, it might hit the pin and miss, so I don’t think I’ll do that again.”
Woods said he is more likely to use the pin if he’s got a longer putt and can’t see the bottom of the hole and, potentially, on very short putts where another player decided to leave the flagstick in.
“I’ve been experimenting, but it’s just kind of weird,” Woods said.