Boo Weekley found out an act of sportsmanship on his part didn’t pay, especially when he did
not know the Rules of Golf as well as he should have.
In the 2007 Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill in Orlando, Tom Johnson’s approach on a par
3 ended up on the green, but was 85 feet away. He decided the best way to get the ball close was to take
his wedge and land the ball on the fringe and let it trickle down to the hole. However, he forgot to tell
his caddie to tend the flag. Johnson pulled off the shot perfectly. Thinking that the ball might hit the
flagstick and result in a penalty for Johnson, Weekly ran over and pulled it out. An observant fan who
knew the rules mentioned what had happened to a rules official. When the players went to the scoring
tent to sign their cards, the officials asked Johnson if he had authorized Weekly to tend the pin. When
the answer was no, Weekly was handed a two-stroke penalty. “I learned another rule of golf today, “
It’s right there in Rule 17-2: “If an opponent or his caddie in match play or a fellow competitor
or his caddie in stroke play, without the player’s authority or prior knowledge, attends, removes or
holds up the flagstick during the stroke or while the ball is in motion, and his act might influence the
movement of the ball, the opponent or fellow competitor incurs the applicablepenalty—two strokes in
stroke play and loss of hole in match play.”
There is an exception which results in no penalty for either party.. After a stroke is made, if the
player attending the flagstick removes it and places it on the ground, he may pick it up.
In a similar situation in a Ryder Cup-style event a few years ago, my opponent in a single match
had a downhill three-footer to win the 16th hole. The flagstick was lying on the green 20 feet below the
cup, apparently out of play. However, that was not the case on this particular green with a steep slope.
He missed the putt and the ball rolled down and hit the flagstick. He went ahead and putted and holed
that putt. However, I had to tell him that he had lost the hole instead. If I had been quick enough to
move the flagstick myself, I would have been just like Weekly and I would have lost the hole.
You or your caddie needs to be careful to tend the flagstick without the authority of your opponent or fellow competitor. The result would be loss of hole in match play and a two-stroke penalty in stroke play.
Another thing that you should be aware of is that you can be deemed to be attending the
flagstick by just being close enough to touch it and do not have to actually have your hand on it.
If a player or caddie happened to pull out the hole-liner and the ball hits it, there’s no penalty
since the hole-liner is an outside agency. If the hole-liner was moving, then the stroke would be
cancelled and must be replayed. If the ball rolled into an unlined hole, it is considered to be holed.
As I found out, you also need to be careful where you leave the flagstick on the green. I remember seeing a long putt catch the wrong side of a slope and hitting the flagstick although it was a good 20 feet right of the cup. That’s embarassing and, of course, cost me two strokes