The right (and wrong) way to pull a ball from the cup, according to a superintendent

In golf, knocking the ball into the hole can be a challenge. Retrieving the ball is the easy part. And yet a lot of players mess up the task, damaging the cup along the way.

Mark Patterson, a longtime member of the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America, is the superintendent at Legacy Golf Club at Lakewood Ranch and Serenoa Golf Club, a pair of Florida properties. 

You got it in the jar? Congratulations. Here’s Patterson’s guide for how to get it out.

1. Don’t rush

In the wake of a rules change and the contactless trends of the lockdown era, a lot of people now putt with the flagstick in. That’s fair game. But please, Patterson says, don’t use that same flagstick to pry the ball out. It’s tempting, he knows. But the motion required — tilting the stick and pulling up quickly — often knocks the cup out of round. Take your time and think of it as a two-step process. Remove the flagstick gently, and then the ball.

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2. Use your hand

This just in: putters are designed to roll the ball into the hole, not to pull it out. Resist the urge to go fishing with your flatstick. Or any other club for that matter. The best tool for the job is the one at the end of your arm. Rather than jamming your entire mitt into the cup, try reaching down gently and securing the ball gently between two fingers. The middle finger and index finger usually work well.

3. Repair any damage

If you inadvertently damage the cup, do your best to repair it. In most cases, you should be able to fix scuff marks with your finger (if you’ve done more serious wreckage that you can’t fix on your own, alert a course staff member ASAP). Maintenance workers sometimes gently tamp down rough spots around the hole with their feet, but only when they aren’t wearing golf shoes. If you’ve got any kind of spikes — metal or soft — you’re better off tamping the turf lightly with the bottom of the putter. The superintendent will thank you. The golfers behind you will be grateful, too. 

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