Don’t ‘drop the ball’ when it comes to dropping the ball

There often are times during a round of golf when you are required to or permitted to drop a ball in a new location – either free relief from something or penalty relief, which include penalty strokes.

The most important thing to remember with dropping a ball is that generally once you drop, you are going to be stuck with that decision. There is little scope to freely change your mind, even if you need to re-drop or move to another location to drop.

There was a situation recently involving John Lyras, an Australian golfer making his Korn Ferry Tour debut. He dropped a ball correctly using an applicable rule, however before making a stroke at the dropped ball – and based on comments from other players – he picked it up and continued play with the original ball. Unfortunately, this sequence of events and some confusion ultimately resulted in his disqualification.

A section in Rule 14 relates to correcting mistakes with applying the rules. However, there is a guiding principle that even if you are correcting a mistake, you are stuck with what you get right.

Let’s say you are certain your ball has come to rest inside a penalty area. You and your group start searching as you may be able to play it as it lies. After two minutes, you decide to take relief from the penalty area and drop a ball correctly. Ten seconds later and before you make your next stroke with the dropped ball, someone else finds your ball in the penalty area within the three minutes of search time.

It would be easy to think you have caught a lucky break, in that you haven’t played the dropped ball yet and your original ball in the penalty area is still
in play, because it has been found
within three minutes. However, it is no longer in play, as you put another ball into play when you dropped under an applicable rule.

As you knew your ball was in the penalty area, you were permitted to proceed under the penalty area rule and drop a ball in the correct relief area. It is now your ball in play and your original ball is now a wrong ball.

Finding your original ball may indicate that you need to drop somewhere else and correct where you dropped (based on where the ball last crossed the edge of the penalty area), however you are locked in to taking relief.

Even if your ball rolls outside the relief area and you need to drop again, you are still committed to proceeding under the penalty area relief rule.

In another recent Australian tournament example, Player A’s ball was stuck in a difficult position in the rough, so he decided to take unplayable-ball relief. He dropped correctly into a relief area using lateral relief, but before he played his next shot, Player B inspected where the ball was, and suggested that the player could have taken free relief as his ball was embedded.

Player B was correct in that the ball was embedded and Player A could have taken free relief. However, he had already dropped correctly under the unplayable-ball rule, which he was entitled to do, and his ball was now in play at a different spot, under penalty
of one stroke.

The lesson here is, before you drop your ball, make sure that is exactly what you want to do. In most situations, once you drop, you are locked into that procedure and cannot freely change your mind. 

Stuart McPhee is a rules official for the PGA Tour of Australasia and co-host of the No.1 podcast in the world dedicated solely to discussing the Rules of Golf: The Golf Rules Questions Podcast.

 getty images: david cannon