Martin Dempster: No flagstick please when Masters champion holes winning putt

Jin Young Ko of Korea is congratulated by her caddie David Brooker after holing out to win the ANA Inspiration. Picture: Matthew Stockman/Getty
Jin Young Ko of Korea is congratulated by her caddie David Brooker after holing out to win the ANA Inspiration. Picture: Matthew Stockman/Getty
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Well, that didn’t take long, did it? In the first major of 2019, we got the answer. Players are indeed prepared to keep the flagstick in, even in the game’s biggest events and even for short putts.

It was Korean Jin Young Ko who created history by becoming the first player in the game to claim a major by holing the winning putt with the flagstick in, which is now allowed, of course, following the rules being relaxed since the start of the year.

In fairness to the 23-year-old, she didn’t do it just to claim some extra spotlight as she won the ANA Inspiration at Rancho Mirage in California. Ko left the flag in throughout the final round and it did the trick as putt after putt disappeared into the hole.

It probably wouldn’t have mattered if the flagstick had been in or not. When someone putts as well as she did on this occasion, the whole flagstick issue seems irrelevant. But it’s not.

Unless I’ve got it totally wrong – and it wouldn’t be the first time – this change wasn’t introduced with the aim of allowing top players to putt from 10 feet and closer with the flagstick in the hole.

Its main aim was to try and help speed up play at club level, allowing golfers to hit lengthy putts without needing a playing partner to tend the pin, thereby saving some time.

In fairness, most top professionals have opted to only leave the flagstick in for similar putts, which is perfectly fine. But, more than three months on, I still don’t think it is right seeing that happen when you are talking about the majority of those putts holed by Ko as she secured her maiden major victory.

Will it happen again this week in The Masters? I’d like to think not – and the same goes for any of the other men’s majors, this year or any other. But don’t rule it out, especially if someone has the same slippery downhill putt that Sandy Lyle converted on the 18th green in the final round when he claimed his Green Jacket in 1988.

It worked a treat. Brilliantly, in fact. So we can surely expect to see the ground-breaking Jordan Mixed Open become a regular event and perhaps have it copied around the world.

It really was fascinating to keep an eye on the tournament, which involved the same number of players from the Ladies European Tour, the Challenge Tour and the Staysure (Seniors) Tour battle it out in the same event over 54 holes.

The course set-up was always going to be key and, with the three sets of players tackling the Ayla Golf Club course over a different yardage, the organisers looked to get that spot-on as a similar number from each group made the cut.

It was a pity that Meghan MacLaren, having led heading into the final round, didn’t come out on top in the end, with that honour going instead to a Challenge Tour player, Daan Huizing.

However, what a fantastic effort from one of the LET’s rising stars, especially after she’d been so vocal in the build-up to the event about it being such a fantastic opportunity for players from her circuit to showcase their skills.

By all accounts, the inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur proved a resounding success and, boy, would someone this Sunday love to match winner Jennifer Kupko’s feat of covering the final six holes in five-under-par.

The new event has its sceptics, of course, but there probably isn’t a single young girl golfer around the world who is not now dreaming of being involved in the future after this whetting of appetites.