Jon Rahm Wins The American Express

Jon Rahm Wins The American Express January 22, 2023

Superstar Jon Rahm held off the challenge of rookie Davis Thompson in the PGA Tour’s American Express tournament at the Stadium Course in La Quinta, California, today to win by one stroke with a four-day total of 27-under par 261.

The eight-time Tour winner Rahm and winless Thompson were tied for first place starting the day. Rahm had two early birdies and led most of the day until they were tied after 15 holes. Rahm birdied the par-five 16th hole to take a one-shot lead. Thompson then hit a forty-foot birdie putt on the 17th green. He had elected to leave the pin in the hole, thus not attended by his caddie. The ball glanced off the pin, hit the edge of the cup, and stayed out of the hole. Had he made that putt, as it turned out they would have tied the 72 holes of regulation play and then had a sudden-death playoff.

During all of my professional golf career, the Rules of Golf assessed a one-stroke penalty for hitting a putt on the green if the ball hits the flagstick (pin) in the hole, regardless of whether the ball goes in the hole or not. But two years ago (?) they changed that rule to the way it had been long ago. Thus, golfers can now leave the pin in the hole when they putt on the green, and there is no penalty if the player hits the putt from on the green and the ball hits the pin in the hole.

It has always been a controversy in golf when the game had this rule, as it now does. The debate concerns whether or not it is advantageous for the golfer to leave the pin in the hole when putting and the putted ball hits the pin. When that happens, does the pin sometimes aid the ball, causing it to fall in the hole? Or is the pin a detriment so that it might sometimes prevent the ball from falling in the hole when the ball strikes the pin?

The answer depends on several factors. One is that it depends on how the flagstick is made and of what material. When I first started playing golf, plastic did not pervade the world as it now does. So, in golf there were no pins made of plastic. Today, and for a long time now, all pins are made of plastic. Plastic pins allows for them to be thinner than the pins were when I started golf. Pins back then were made of wood, with a metal gadget attached to them at the end for it to fit in the metal cup inside the hole. Wooden pins had to be thick so that they wouldn’t break. I would guess they were about an inch thick where they entered the hole. They were tapered, so that they were thinner at the top, where the flag was attached. That extra thickness would prevent the ball from falling in the hole it the ball struck the pin. Also, wooden pins were more rigid than later plastic pins, thus further preventing the ball from falling in the hole.

Another issue concerns if the ball hits the pin dead center and is traveling quite fast. The ball could be traveling at a speed that would cause it to hit the back of the cup, bounce into the air, and go beyond the hole. But with these plastic pins, which are resilient, if the ball is traveling that fast and it hits the pin dead center, the ball still might fall into the hole. I think that’s the main reason why some golfers now leave the pin in the hole when they putt.

Davis Thompson’s putt on the 17th hole today struck the pin at a speed that may had prevented the ball from falling in the hole if the pin had been removed. In viewing the replay, I thought it was about a 50/50 chance that it could have gone either way. But it may have been a little more likely that the ball would have fallen in the hole if the pin had been removed. It was a close call. Thompson obviously was upset when it happened. He may have thought the ball would have gone in the hole if he had putted with the pin out.

Most pros leave the pin out of the hole when they putt. It is pretty obvious watching PGA Tour tournaments, since this rule has been in place, that most pros think it is a disadvantage to leave the pin in the hole when they putt. If most of them thought it was an advantage, they surely would leave the pin in as Thompson did.

During my career as a pro golfer, I have always thought that even with our modern plastic, thin pins, it would be a disadvantage to leave the pin in the hole when putting. But it is a judgment call. There may be some good research on this. If there is, I don’t know about it.

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