Players sound off on new rules for flagstick, drops

PGA Sentry Tournament of Champions Notebook

Patton Kizzire tees off on the first hole Thursday. Kizzire had a hole-in-one on No. 8. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photos

The Maui News

Several new rules of golf took effect during the first round of the Sentry Tournament of Champions, but none was more prevalent than the option to leave the flagstick in the hole while putting.

Reactions to the flagstick rule, one of several new rules designed to help speed up play, varied widely.

“A 2- or 3- or 4-foot putt? No. Never,” Patrick Reed said Wednesday during his pre-tournament press conference about using the new option of leaving the stick in the hole. “I won’t on that short of a putt because I don’t know how many times I’ve putted on the putting green and I have the flag in and it’s like there’s an, it’s like a shield around the hole, it never goes in.”

Reed did say that he will use the option on long putts.

World No. 1 Brooks Koepka gets help looking for his ball after an errant drive on No. 14. He took an unplayable lie and ended up taking bogey on the hole during a round of 76.

“Where I think it will help is you get those 70-, 80-, 90-footers, those really long one where your caddie is over there tending,” Reed said. “So I think that would be the only time that I would keep the flag in.”

Justin Thomas, the 2017 champion here, said he will never leave the flag in for a putt.

“What, the flagstick? I just, I truly, I can’t,” he said. “I wouldn’t be able to take myself seriously. I just feel like it would be very, very weird.”

Reed said the “biggest” rule change is the drop rule that has golfers dropping out of an unplayable lie from knee height instead of the old shoulder height, an effort to keep re-drops — necessary when the ball rolls past two club lengths — at a minimum.

If the ball is dropped twice and rolls past of the two-club-length allowance each time, a player is allowed to place the ball.

Hole of the day: No. 15 • 555 yards • Par 5 – The 15th hole played as the easiest of the day on Thursday. It saw 21 birdies, an eagle, 10 pars and one bogey to play 0.667 strokes below par.

Among the other new rules:

• Players are now allowed to ground their clubs in hazards and remove loose impediments in hazards, such as a rock in a sand trap.

• Caddies cannot stand behind players to help with alignment once the player begins to take his or her stance over the ball.

• The five-minute allowance to look for a lost ball has been trimmed to three minutes.

• Spike marks can now be fixed on greens.

Dustin Johnson, the defending champion here, said he doesn’t see any of the new rules being too cumbersome.

“No, I mean, I looked over all of them,” he said. “It’s not, it’s really not much different. Probably the biggest thing I think is being able to leave the flag in, and then the drop heights.”

Rory McIlroy said the rules need to be simplified even more.

“I think that they’re trying to simplify the rules, which I think is a great thing for the game,” he said. “I’ve always said that the rules of golf are way too complicated, especially after the debacles and farces we have had at U.S. Opens and all sorts of stuff over the last few years. So I’m happy that they made the decision to try and simplify them and just try to make everything a little bit easier to understand.”

Hole-in-one for Kizzire

Patton Kizzire aced the par-3 eighth hole, which has a scorecard distance of 203 yards, but was playing to 186 with the pin placement on Thursday.

Kizzire used a 7-iron for the shot, and the eagle moved him to 3 under — he finished the day in a tie for sixth place at 4-under 69. His tee shot hit about five feet in front of the hole and rolled straight in.

Kizzire is just the second golfer to ace the hole in the 21-year history of the tournament here. Lucas Glover did it in the third round of the 2006 event.

New No. 1?

Justin Rose, who is not in this field and is currently No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, will ascend to No. 1 next week if Brooks Koepka finishes in a tie for eighth or worse here.

Koepka was tied for 30th in the 33-player field after a first-round 76.

Quotable

“Yeah, I love signing for the kids. Yes, that’s what it’s all about, trying to grow the game and it’s nice to support the little guys that come out here. So I never mind doing that.”

— Dustin Johnson, on signing autographs for youngsters after his round

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