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Here's an expert's explanation of why Bryson DeChambeau's penalty drops were perfectly legal at Memorial

July 18, 2020

Bryson DeChambeau drops for the third time on the 15th hole during the second round of the Memorial.


When the USGA and R&A issued the new Rules of Golf in 2019, among their primary goals was to make them easier to understand and execute.

As evidenced by some of the social media chatter that came out of Bryson DeChambeau’s three penalty drops amid his quintuple-bogey 10 on Friday at the Memorial, everyone needs a refresher sometimes.

“That was a big part of what we were trying to do,” Craig Winter, the USGA’s senior director of the Rules of Golf, said on the telephone on Saturday. “The high-level message is to make the rules easier to apply. We don’t need players so focused on a spot. You don’t win golf tournaments by how you drop the ball; you win with how you swing the club.”

Not surprisingly, the rules questions arose not long after DeChambeau stroked his final putt for a 10 at Muirfield Village’s par-5 15th hole. To review as simply as possible for a sequence in which DeChambeau took three drops: His drive went into a penalty area on the left; he took a drop and with shot No. 3 he flew his fairway wood over a fence and out of bounds on the right.

Now, Winter noted, DeChambeau was being penalized stroke and distance for going OB. From where he hit the shot, he could drop one club length no closer to the hole, though that only has to be an estimate; he doesn't actually have to lay down a club. He made his drop and with shot No. 5 hit the same fairway wood to a similar area out of bounds.

This is where the golfer took some heat from rules watchers: DeChambeau clearly did not find the exact same spot for his first OB drop, because his right foot was clearly outside of the red line of the penalty area, when it had been inside that line after his first penalty drop. Viewers called “foul,” contending he did not hit from the same spot.

That’s where the new rules come in, Winter said. Remember the controversy over Tiger Woods not dropping in the same spot during the 2013 Masters? If not solely responsible for the new rule, it certainly played a big part. The USGA and R&A sought to not be so strident on the exact spot by giving golfers a larger area in which to drop. “Reasonable judgment” became the key phrase.

In the new rules, golfers are required to come as close as possible to the original spot within a club length. With a driver, that can be about four feet. “That’s a large area of relief,” Winter noted.

Winter said even if a drop ended up slightly closer to the hole, it would not necessarily be a breach if a “reasonable judgment” was made as to where the drop should be. Essentially, this took TV replays out of the equation—a high priority for the game’s leaders.

“We’re trying not to focus on picky breaches,” Winter said. “We’re giving players a reasonable judgment to identify where to drop … to estimate it, do it quickly and take good care. That’s how golf’s been played for centuries.”