Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 19 August 2019

Players try to adjust to new rules at Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship presented by EGA

Flagstick use and knee-high drops among the new rules that have been introduced for the new season

Tommy Fleetwood was one player who opted to leave the flagstick in for a putt at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship presented by EGA. AP Photo
Tommy Fleetwood was one player who opted to leave the flagstick in for a putt at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship presented by EGA. AP Photo

So the Rules of Golf have been rewritten. Now, what about the etiquette?

The opening morning of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship presented by EGA was the introduction for the majority of players involved to a variety of new nuances of the rulebook.

Take, for instance, the flagstick. At a little before 8am, Tommy Fleetwood hit his second shot to within around 35 feet of the par-5 10th, where he, Tyrrell Hatton and Brooks Koepka were starting their opening round.

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The defending champion opted to putt with the flag in, as the amended laws now permit, with the previous two-shot penalty now a thing of the past.

He rolled his eagle attempt to gimme range. Then, what? Was he going to make the short birdie putt with the flag in? Would his caddie remove it? Or was it someone else’s job?

Then, around 20 minutes later, Henrik Stenson, in the match ahead of the Fleetwood three-ball, had a drop from next to the water guarding the green at the par-3 12th. He did so, initially, from shoulder height.

Old habits clearly die hard. Between him and his caddie, the realisation dawned that knee-height is the new range for that process.

It was golf, sure. But not precisely as everyone was used to it.

“It’s something different to do [putting with the flag left in],” said Louis Oosthuizen, who finished with a 7-under-par 65, and is one of four players within three shots of leader Shane Lowry ahead of Round 2.

“What I like about it is, out of the corner of my eye, I sort of see the pin or know the general direction. It is a little bit of a feel on longer putts, and I quite like that.

“I hit one on 11 and then no-one knew if they were going to take the pin out for me. I said, ‘No, you can take that out’.

“I’m not comfortable with the short ones yet, but on the longer putts I definitely like the pin in.”

Lee Westwood, who is one shot behind the group on 7-under, in a tie for sixth, had voiced scepticism about the changes before the tournament – yet invoked the new flag rule.

“For a couple of the long putts I kept the flag in, because it gave me better depth perception,” Westwood said.

“I don’t really get the idea of putting with it in from a short distance. As long as I’ve been playing on tour, you see players taking the pin out when they’re chipping, when they feel like they can hole one.

“Why is it suddenly a good idea to keep it in when you’ve got an eight-footer?”

Updated: January 16, 2019 06:55 PM

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