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February 28, 2019

Pin-In or Pin-Out?

The USGA and the Royal and Ancient spent six years working on simplifying the rules of golf. As a golf purest, I don't like changes, but overall I think they did a pretty good job. The one I dislike the most is the drop from knee height. To me it looks awkward, cumbersome and unnecessary. Let the drop be anywhere from waist high to the knee. But the biggest change for most golfers is the option to putt with the pin-in the hole.

This change has surprised the rules makers. Its intent was for speed of play, especially for the amateur golfer that doesn't usually have a caddy. But it now has become a possible performance enhancer. On the professional Tours, you are seeing multiple players putting with the pin-in on all putts. They would only do that if they thought that the pin would be giving them an advantage. The PGA Tour is the testing ground for innovation. If there is a way for them to lower their score, they will find it. We are only two months into this new rule. We will know a lot more in the months ahead from the actions of the best professionals.

Dave Pelz, the NASA scientist and putting guru, did a study in 1990 on the effect of the pin on putts rolling at different speeds. His results were conclusive that having the pin-in was a definite advantage. Bryson DeChambeau has putted with the flagstick in on all putts this year. Bryson states that if the course is using standard ½ inch fiberglass pins the pin will deaden the momentum of the ball. However if the pin is thicker and not flexible, he will opt to putt with the pin-out.

Since the beginning of the year numerous studies have been published. All have determined that the pin-in is an assistance. For a putt that would travel three feet past the pin, if it did not hit the pin, the percentages are significant in favor of leaving the flagstick in. If the putt were going even faster the advantage gets greater. So why are only a handful of professionals putting with the pin in? First, they have played their entire life with the pin-out. Hard to break an old habit and having the pin-in might be a distraction. Second, they have incredible feel and distance control. They are not ramming putts well past the hole. Based on the circumstances of the putt, the good putters are either playing to just roll the ball into the cup or have a speed that will carry it 12 to 18 inches past the hole. At those speeds having the pin in or out would have no impact on the outcome of the putt staying in the cup.

I have been a reasonably good putter my entire life. I have good feel and distance control. This is what I would do in a tournament situation. I would leave the pin-in on all putts over 20 feet. Reasoning is that speed control is harder the longer the putt and if I err on the long side, the pin could help me. From 15 to 20 feet, it will depend on the speed of the green and if it is downhill or uphill. Inside of 15 feet, I will always have it out.

For the average amateur, I would recommend leaving the pin-in on all putts. First, it will speed up play, but it definitely will be an advantage to have a backstop on putts hit too hard. Second, most amateurs do not aim properly. Having the pin-in will better center your concentration on your aim point, the narrower the focus the better. That is the main reason that Adam Scott has chosen to putt with the pin-in.

The USGA and R&A have inadvertently given golfers an advantage. Golf's hard enough; we should take advantage of this assistance.

 

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