RulesMay 14, 2017

Players Championship 2017: Why Ian Poulter was allowed to move all that pine straw before his drop

THE PLAYERS Championship - Final Round
Sam GreenwoodPONTE VEDRA BEACH, FL - MAY 14: Ian Poulter of England plays a shot on the seventh hole during the final round of THE PLAYERS Championship at the Stadium course at TPC Sawgrass on May 14, 2017 in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

Ian Poulter, after shanking his approach shot on 18 and taking an unplayable lie on Sunday at the Players, hit a spectacular shot from the pine straw, through the trees and almost into the hole. Well, did he really hit it from the pine straw? Before taking a drop, Poulter, who finished tied for second, was seen clearing a bunch of pine straw from the area where he was going to drop his ball.

Related: Ian Poulter will retain exempt status for rest of tour season after all

Similar to a lot of viewers, we paused when we saw Poulter brushing away handful after handful of pine straw until bare dirt was visible. We went from, That has to be illegal, right? to, Oh, please not another call-in situation.

But turns out it’s totally legal.

According to the USGA Rules of Golf, Decision 23-1/6:

Q. Through the green, is it permissible for a player to remove loose impediments from the area in which he is preparing to drop his ball?A. Yes.

Pretty cut and dry right there.

If you thought Poulter was definitely breaking the rules, you’re not alone, and you’re not completely off base. Rule 13-2 Improving Lie, Area of Intended Stance or Swing, or Line of Play says:

A player must not improve or allow to be improved… The area in which he is to drop or place a ball, by any of the following actions:

  • pressing a club on the ground
  • moving, bending or breaking anything growing or fixed (including immovable obstructions and objects defining out of bounds),
  • creating or eliminating irregularities of surface,
  • removing or pressing down sand, loose soil, replaced divots or other cut turf placed in position, or
  • removing dew, frost or water.

If a player were to do any of the above, he’d incur a two-stroke penalty. Luckily for Poulter, he was moving pine straw around and not loose soil. No penalty, no call-ins, no drama.