Dropping The Ball Doesn’t Have To Be So Complicated

In his book “The Principles Behind The Rules of Golf,” Richard Tufts succinctly summarized the rules:

“Put your ball into play at the start of the hole, play only your own ball and do not touch it until you lift it from the hole.”

If only it were so simple.

One situation where Tuft’s principles breaks down is where a golfer is required to drop a ball on the course. This might occur when a player takes relief from a water hazard, from an obstruction, or from abnormal ground conditions like ground under repair or casual water. Rule 20 (“Lifting, Dropping, and Placing”) can turn such a seemingly simple task into a complicated exercise fraught with peril.

A quick look at Rule 20-2 reveals that there is more to dropping than meets the eye. A player must drop the ball while standing erect and holding the ball at shoulder height and arm’s length. The ball must first strike the course in a specified place and must not strike any person or equipment.

Rule 20-2 dropping the ball

If the player drops the ball correctly, it is played from where it comes to rest UNLESS it ends up in any one of nine locations requiring the ball to re-dropped. For example, re-dropping is required if the ball rolls into a hazard, onto the putting green, out of bounds, more than two club lengths from where it struck the ground, or comes to rest closer to the hole than its original position. If a similar situation occurs on the re-drop, the ball must be placed where it struck the course.

The proposed revisions to the rules of golf, scheduled to become effective in 2019, would drastically simplify the rules for dropping balls. No longer would the ball have to be dropped in a certain manner or from a certain height; under the proposed rules you may drop a ball from an inch above the ground.

In addition, there is more latitude for where the ball may be dropped. As long as the ball is dropped in and comes to rest in a specific “relief area” (measured either 20 inches or 80 inches from a reference point or line) the ball is in play, even if it hits a person or object before coming to rest. If a ball comes to rest outside of the specified relief area, it may be re-dropped multiple times. In unusual cases where the ball will not come to rest in the relief area, the rules will allow it to be placed.

The objective of the overhaul of the dropping procedures is to shift from a rigid, mechanical approach on how the ball is dropped towards a focus on where the ball is dropped and played from. Eliminating the shoulder-height requirement should ensure that the ball rolls less after striking the ground and remains within the relief area. Nevertheless, the new rule will still retain some randomness as to where the ball ends up, so that the player has no guarantee of a good lie.

Another advantage to the new rule is that a ball dropped in a bunker will be less likely to become embedded in the sand since it may be dropped from a lower height. It will also simplify re-dropping by eliminating the various situations requiring such action. Players will be required to re-drop only if the ball comes to rest outside of the relief area.

While we all might strive to adhere to the simple golf principle enunciated by Tufts, few of us get through a round without encountering situations requiring us to drop a ball. Starting in 2019, this will be a much simpler exercise.