Rules of Golf

Rules of Golf Review: My opponent took a generous drop after hitting into a hazard. Can he be DQ'd for that?

September 02, 2023

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You've probably played a round or two with someone who hit a ball into a penalty area and then proceeded to drop outside his or her entitled relief area. In some cases, the drop was so egregious, the player gained a huge advantage from where they should have dropped.

We’re not here to discuss the awkwardness that can come from confronting a player or alerting a rules official about an improper drop. You can make that call, but you wouldn't be wrong if you did. For now, let's simply discuss the consequences when dropping beyond the area of relief.

If you're in a match-play event and you see someone hit a shot from the wrong place (Rule 14.7), the penalty for doing so is loss of hole. In stroke play, however, the penalty depends on where the golfer played from and what happened next. Here's an explanation:

Say someone hit into a penalty area, took a drop that wasn't quite right, but didn't gain a significant advantage by playing from the wrong place. That player would be assessed two strokes and should play out the hole without correcting the mistake. An example of this happened at the 2022 FedEx St. Jude Championship in Memphis. PGA Tour pro (but soon-to-be LIV Golf member) Cameron Smith took a drop on the par-3 fourth hole during the third round after hitting his tee shot into the water. When he took his drop, this ball was still touching the penalty area, and because he mistakenly (and innocently) hadn’t taken full relief from the penalty area, he incorrectly played his next shot under the rules.

Complicating the matter was that the violation wasn’t reviewed by PGA Tour officials until the next morning, and Smith was sitting two shots off the lead entering the final round. Despite the overnight delay, officials handed out the penalty and made Smith add two strokes to his Saturday score, going from a 67 to a 69 and now leaving him four back of the leader. Smith went on to shoot 70 in the final round and finished T-13.

If, however, someone plays from the wrong place and that spot offers a significant advantage in playing the hole, a serious breach has occurred and the rules violation has to be corrected. In addition to the two-stroke penalty, you have to go back and play from the correct place before completing the hole (or returning the scorecard on the final hole of a round). If you don't, you're disqualified.

If there is some debate if the drop is a series breach, the player should play two balls on that hole—one from the wrong place and another from the correct place under the rules. Then before the scorecard is returned, the issue should be presented to the committee to determine how to proceed.