Rules Guy: The wind blew the flagstick out of the hole — then my ball hit it and went in. What now?

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What do the rules say about a ball that ricochets off the flagstick into the hole?

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The Rules of Golf are tricky! Thankfully, we’ve got the guru. Our Rules Guy knows the book front to back. Got a question? He’s got all the answers.

Retired guys with season passes will play in just about any conditions. Recently, we were braving a round in a very stiff wind. My tee shot on a par 3 landed a bit short and, just as I chipped, the wind blew the flagstick from the hole. My ball hit the prone flagstick and followed along the stick into the hole. The flag was properly positioned when I played my shot, so I doubt I’m penalized. But do I replay my shot, or is it a birdie with an assist from Mother Nature? —Greg Hayward, via email

While Rules Guy is not quite as besotted by Caddyshack as some people, the incident you describe would have worked well in the bishop’s “best round of my life” montage. Does it end on a happier note? Yes.

There’s nothing in the rules as far as Rules Guy sees that penalizes you or that would require the stroke to be replayed. You didn’t remove the flagstick while the ball was in motion, and the ball hitting the flagstick was an accident. Under Rule 13.2, accidental deflections result in the ball being played as it lies without penalty. Pick your ball from the cup … and, please, don’t get struck by lightning.   

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Rules Guy: How do you proceed if your ball gets caught in the flagstick?
By: Rules Guy

For more flagstick-related guidance from our guru, read on …

A player’s ball is laying a foot from the hole. He thinks the flagstick is a bit off-center, so he decides to center it, and, while still holding it in one hand, he sinks the putt using his other hand. Reading Rule 13.2a and b and the interpretations, I can’t understand if this action is allowed. Maybe you can help. —Marius Bugge, Norway

Rule 13.2a allows a player to have the flagstick centered in the hole.

Interpretation 13.2b(1)/2 allows a player to hold the flagstick in one hand while making a stroke with the other. But it also states that the player must not deliberately let the ball in motion hit the flagstick.

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So, this player needed to let go of the flagstick before sinking the putt. He gets the general penalty of two strokes in stroke play or loss of hole in match play; the stroke does not count and he needs to play the stroke again without holding onto the flagstick — or pulling it from the hole before the ball strikes it.

A lot of angst over a one-footer, no?

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