Optometrist Farnsworth Says Leave Pin In The Hole
LA QUINTA, CALIFORNIA | Everyone in the game has seen it by now and everyone likely has an opinion. Whether it’s Adam Scott putting at the flagstick from 6 feet, Bryson DeChambeau leaving the flagstick in the hole from all manner of distances, players pledging to never leave it in, always leave it in, or some mixture depending on the distance of the putt, Rule 13.2a (2), which eliminates the penalty if a ball played from the putting green hits the flagstick, has created a lot of conversation.
But very little of that discussion is scientific. For that, we turn to an expert.
Call it the Farnsworth Flagstick Fandango. With golfers debating the new rule, it took an optometrist by trade, Dr. Craig Farnsworth, to explain what’s really happening here.
Golfers now have three choices while putting: (1) Leave the flagstick unattended in the hole; (2) take it out; (3) have a caddie tend the flagstick and then pull it once the ball is in motion. Each golfer makes a personal choice. In a single foursome, it is possible to have a mixture of putting methods.
But the question everyone wants answered is: While putting, is it advantageous to leave the stick in the hole or take it out?
Farnsworth does not hesitate at all. “Leave it in the hole,” he says. “Leave it in the hole on long putts. Leave it in the hole on short putts. For average players, it can be a very helpful rule if they know how to use it.”
For eight years, Farnsworth was the team eye doctor for the Denver Nuggets of the NBA. He also was an eye consultant for the Denver Broncos of the NFL. And he was widely known for his work with a variety of athletes at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo.
For the past 25 years, he has worked primarily with golfers. When Nick Faldo overcame Greg Norman in the 1996 Masters, he was following visual drills prescribed by Farnsworth. Which brings Farnsworth to his Flagstick Fandango. When the flagstick is left in the hole, it effectively creates an aiming device.
This can benefit a golfer in two ways. One, the flagstick can help provide the proper distance on longer putts. Two, the narrow flagstick can at times serve as a precise aiming target on shorter putts.
This is especially important because most golfers aim short and also come up short on their putts. With the flagstick in the hole, however, they can overcome the tendency to leave their putts short.
Distance Control: Short and low are the bad guys in this equation. When asked to close their eyes and then point to a specific target, most people point short and low. This means their pointing finger is aimed at the ground, substantially short of the target. The same is true when shooting a firearm for the first time. Whether it is firing a pistol at a still target or a shotgun at sporting clays, the novice almost always tends to miss low.
The same thing can happen when putting. “Average players hardly ever get the ball to the cup,” Farnsworth says. “They are dealing with misperceptions. They are not perceiving things accurately. Using the flagstick properly can help prevent putts that finish way short of the hole.”
On longer putts that are level or uphill, one way to use the flagstick for distance control is to feel as if you are aiming up the flagstick — often aiming as much as 2 feet up the flagstick.
In essence, this provides a secondary target. On these level or uphill putts, look above the cup on the flagstick. This provides a change in the visual angle, resulting in an adjusted visual and mental target, creating more distance on level or uphill putts.
Farnsworth notes that concentration is the key. You can effectively reduce your chance for error by aiming intently at the narrow flagstick as it sits in the cup.
Downhill putts, because of the influence of gravity and the downhill slope of the ground, generally do not require the same adjustment as level and uphill putts.
Practice is mandatory, of course, but most golfers will develop a personal sense of distance control by feeling as if they are aiming up the flagstick on level and uphill putts.
Target Control: On many short putts, it is possible to use the flagstick as a direct target, assuming the player is aiming inside the cup. Focusing on the stick is crucial. A golfer cannot allow himself to be distracted by anything around the target. “Most golfers are handicapped by visual perceptions,” Farnsworth proclaims. “You don’t want your eyes taking in more than the target. The smaller the target, the better the end result.”
Newly minted NBC analyst Paul Azinger, who teaches a small group of high-level students, says, “It’s way easier to aim at something above the ground. If you putt at a water bottle, you’ll almost never miss. But a water bottle is smaller (in diameter) than the hole. And you can go even smaller. An old, glass Coke bottle is even smaller (in diameter). Give it a try. From 15 feet, you’ll hit it all day.”
Farnsworth notes that concentration is the key. Do not allow anything to divert your attention. You can effectively reduce your chance for error by aiming intently at the narrow flagstick as it sits in the cup. Once again, practice, practice.
Putting is a fascinating pursuit. It is the everyman element of golf. On the green, just about every golfer feels that he or she should be able to roll the ball consistently and sink a few putts. On a good day, expectations rise and golfers often imagine they will make more than a few putts.
But, darn, here comes the bogeyman: “Missed another 3-footer. How can it be? Call me Hands of Stone.”
Conversations about the new flagstick rule often are simplistic or comical. At the PGA Tour’s Desert Classic, three-word sentences proved to be popular in practice rounds, with “Leave it in” and “Take it out” being the most popular.
Carefully listening to everything within earshot is Farnsworth’s shadow, Choi Jong Hwan, South Korea’s best-known putting instructor.
Farnsworth currently works out of his office in La Quinta, and his putting schools regularly attract dozens of would-be great putters.
Bryson DeChambeau has talked about the flagstick rule more than any other touring pro. Perhaps to preserve his reputation as having golf’s highest IQ, he implied that some flagsticks produce a greater bounce than others. What he wants, of course, is less bounce so that his ball stays close to the hole.
This reminded some observers of the famous USGA ruling in 1998, when golf’s ruling body announced it would start measuring rebound effect in driver clubheads. The USGA still measures rebound effect in drivers and could, if it wanted, implement flagstick regulations.
Somewhere Tommy Bolt must be laughing. The flagstick rule has changed before. When Bolt won the 1958 U.S. Open at Southern Hills in Tulsa, Okla., Bolt left the flagstick in the hole, even on the shortest of putts.
He was right. At least, he was right according to the Farnsworth Flagstick Fandango.
Bryson DeChambeau putts with the flagstick in the hole during the Sentry Tournament of Champions. Photo: Kevin C. Cox, Getty Images
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