I was playing in my regular morning group one time in a two-person vs. two-person best ball match. Once we all were on the green, I walked to the flagstick to attend it for my partner. (Officially, you “attend” the flagstick, not “tend” it. That could be a good bar bet at the 19th hold.) As I reached out for the flagstick one of our opponents said something and I looked at him, and missed the flagstick. I reached back and grabbed it. However, before I grabbed the flagstick my partner putted his ball — and wouldn’t you know it — he holed the 30 footer.
As you can imagine chaos ensued. Our opponents claimed that because I had not touched the flagstick before my partner putted, I could not touch it once the ball was in motion. We on the other hand said that this wasn’t the US Amateur so they shouldn’t be so prickly. Anyway, unarmed with the rules we forfeited the hole. However, after the round I decided to review the rule — and was stunned to find out we should have won the hole!
So what’s the flagstick rule?
Everything about the story above is correct except one thing. Since I was near the flagstick, the rules clearly say that I was attending it. Since I was attending it, I could continue to attend it by removing the flagstick from the hole so that my partner’s excellent putt could go in unimpeded. The rules don’t define how close one needs to be to the flagstick to be considered attending it. Arm’s length is safe, but at this point the USGA has not further defined this.
Live and learn. While we lost this hole because we didn’t know the rule, we won’t lose another hole like it.
USGA Rule 17-1 (especially Note 1)
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