Drop Correctly to Avoid a Penalty
When I was a new Rules Official, I was partnered with Ron Read, Western Regional Director of the USGA, to learn the techniques of officiating. As we watched a player take a drop from a water hazard, we were both surprised to see her spin the ball as she dropped it. Ron calmly walked over, introduced himself and asked about her method of dropping. “Oh,” she said in all innocence, “We practice that at my club.” Ron explained it was not a proper drop as it is considered exerting influence on the ball, and that she would have to re-drop, happily without penalty, as she had not made a stroke at the ball. She dropped the ball properly and we left her to make her next stroke. Decision 20-2a/2 is the reference.
The Rules of Golf require three things of the player when dropping. The golfer must stand erect, hold the ball at shoulder height and arms length and then drop. It does not matter if the arm is in front or to the side, if the golfer faces the hole or faces away as long as the golfer’s posture is correct and the ball strikes the appropriate part of the course. If the drop is in an improper manner, or if the ball is dropped by the wrong person and the ball is played, the player incurs a one-stroke penalty.
Ryan Gregg, Assistant Director of Rules and Competitions, needed that very information during the beginning of his career with the NCGA. In a stroke play tournament, two players hit tee shots in the same area and found both balls were in positions where there was interference with the cart path. Player A who had been the shorter hitter all day, found the nearest point of relief from the path for the ball farthest from the hole and dropped it. Before he played the ball Player B realized the other ball was not his and questioned whether Player A had dropped his (B’s) ball. Knowing the ball was dropped on the correct part of the course, Player B said “Thanks for doing all the work for me,” and hit his ball as it lay.
Poppy Hills Assistant Professional Holly Juergens demonstrates two good drops, one to the front and one to the side. Since the ball is dropped below shoulder height, the drop is illegal.
When one of the officials heard the story he thought something was wrong but could not find a Decision that gave him guidance. Ryan found the answer in the first sentence in Rule 20-2. “A ball to be dropped under the Rules must be dropped by the player himself.” Relief without penalty tuned into a one stroke penalty.
While dropping a ball seems like a simple procedure, sometimes the area where the ball must be dropped and where it will not be nearer the hole than its original position or nearer than the nearest point of relief is quite small â€“ maybe just a few inches. The drop is not a good one until the ball first strikes that small area when dropped. It can bounce out of that area, but it must first strike the course within the prescribed area.
John Morrissett, director Rules of Golf for the USGA, helped a player who wanted to take relief from an obstruction at the US Girl’s Junior Championship at Merion GC. It turned out the player had only a few inches to drop the ball within and not be nearer the hole. Normally a player has one club-length in this situation.
As the gallery watched from the hill above, they observed the player dropping a fourth and fifth time. John’s wife was in the gallery and heard someone say, “Doesn’t that official know you drop twice and then you place?” That is true in most situations because the ball easily strikes the course with in the required club-length when dropped. In that case, when the target area is only a few inches sometimes a few drops are required. Remember, the drop does not count until the ball finally lands within the target area. With this eventually accomplished, the player was able to proceed with her game.
When playing golf with your friends, next time one of them has to take a drop in the rough, watch out for a “rough magnet.” The player will start out correctly with his arm at shoulder height, but as he looks at the deep rough from which he will be playing his next shot, his arm gets lower and lower until he finally lets go of the ball at about waist-height. Nice try ¾ you need to re-drop it correctly.