PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Florida — The growing minority finally got their wish. An important putt went bounding off a flagstick left in the hole – at the TPC Sawgrass’ 17th as a huge crowd watched a leader and former Ryder Cup captain charge up the Players leaderboard.
All Jim Furyk could do was laugh.
“I don’t think TV gives you quite a perspective on how fast that ball was moving,” Furyk said following a second-round 64 highlighted by a par at the 17th. “I’m probably being generous in saying that ball was going a good eight feet by, maybe more. It wasn’t like water-bound or anything, but it was humming.”
Still, the flagstick was left in the cup for his 42-foot birdie putt and the white plastic pin kept his ball out of the hole. Such a stroke lost was expected to be a watershed moment when players might reconsider what has become increasingly normalized behavior: leaving flagsticks in the cup while putting, a byproduct of revamped rules designed to encourage faster play.
“The laugh was more just kind of like a little sheepish grin,” Furyk said. “But it was a good break.”
The Masters still looms as one possible final hiccup in the new flagstick rule’s permanent adoption, but barring a Green Jacket getting lost over a situation like Furyk’s or Augusta National using extra large pins, the new rule appears to be winning over players, fans and even the PGA Tour commissioner.
“I was uncomfortable watching our broadcasts the first couple weeks,” said Jay Monahan, who admitted to “wearing our guys out,” which was Ponte Vedra-speak for messages, meetings and conjecture over how the new rule was impacting optics.
Yet, from a tournament spectating standpoint, the rule change has been a grand slam.
“I just started to get very comfortable with it, particularly on the West Coast when we were trying to complete play and late in the day,” Monahan said. “I love having that perspective now of longer putts as I’m watching.”
Fans in person can better follow a long putt. Television viewers are getting a better sense of scale and difficulty of putts. Also improved is a cutback on the excessive commotion around the hole involving caddies tending pins or trying to tip-town around the silly “through line” of other players.
“There’s not as much chaos and footprints and someone up there, or even shadows,” said Furyk on why he’s had Fluff Cowan no longer tending. “So I’ve just kind of kept it in on long putts rather than having him tend it.”
In the everyday game, golfers in warmer climates testing out the new rule can already recount stories of how rounds have sped up or how excessive chaos has been trimmed back without managing the flagstick. Even the naysayers predicting terrible optics have mostly disappeared, reduced to waiting for something to happen that might reverse the trend.
“I’ve made a couple putts now with the flagstick in, which it’s a strange deal,” Furyk said. But after his “humming” 17th hole putt was stopped by the flagstick?
“Once it already spit it out the first time, though, I wasn’t going to tap it in with it in.”
So not everyone is totally on board for every putt. Yet.