The flagstick placements at professional golf tournaments range from fall-over easy to so hard Jack Nicklaus couldn’t figure them out on his best day.

Somewhere in the middle would seem to be ideal. Make it challenging for the people who do this for money, but don’t push their nerves to the edge, basically requiring them to hurriedly get a doctorate in analytical physics to make a 10-footer.

For those of us who don’t make money playing golf (indeed, we mostly lose it), flagsticks shouldn’t be as hard as peanut brittle.

The guys – and I’m convinced it’s mostly guys — who sneak onto a public course under the cover of darkness and place the flagsticks for the day’s rounds have a lot to say about the day’s scores. If he has a hangover, or if he’s mad at the wife and/or girlfriend, or if it’s threatening rain and he wants to hurry, the pins might be wackier than normal. I can see his devious grin as he plants the flag on the side of a mound, near a fire-ant hill, within yards of a mud puddle.

The devil made him do it, he might claim.

This happened to my playing group sometime back. On virtually every green, the flagstick was on a nasty slope or on the top ledge of a multi-tiered green or just a few feet from a greenside hazard. Somewhat frustrated by this, and once again irritated that I didn’t break 80 (or, as a matter of fact, 90), I wandered into the pro shop after the round to ask if the placements were left over from a Ryder Cup round the previous day. 

The pro shop guy was not amused. But I enjoyed it.

The pros and their caddies are notified about flagstick locations before each round, but many of them already know the expected spots from years of visits to familiar courses. They know the perfect approaches to match the flagstick placements, although those shots could change depending on ground conditions and wind and other factors. 

Generally, course superintendents and tournament officials have considerable latitude in choosing hole locations. The USGA says the flagstick must be placed in a level area and that the placement must avoid old hole plugs and busy ball-mark areas. Typically, pins should be at least four or five steps from the edge of the green.

The guys I play with regularly typically don’t worry too much about exactly where the flagstick is located, at least not on the approach shot. The basic goal is to get the ball on the green – anywhere, north, east, south, west. No need to be greedy. Just find the really short grass, then worry about the length and curve of the putt. Get on the green in regulation and get home in no more than two putts and march forward to the next challenge.

If you miss too many of those putts, it’s OK to growl at the pro shop guy, or the guys mowing the grass, or the snack shop workers at the turn. The flagstick placements were bad, you can say. Even if they weren’t.