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Rules of Golf Review: When taking relief, when do I drop the ball and when should I place it?

February 28, 2024
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If you watch professional golf on TV, you might see times when a rules official instructs a tour pro where to place a ball or where to drop it. Sometimes, both happen in a consecutive sequence of events. It might leave you a little confused as to when you should drop a ball when taking relief or when to set it gently down.

Luckily, the Rules of Golf is fairly cut-and-dried when it comes to when to do either. Let's review.

The only times you would ever place a ball when taking relief is if your ball is on the putting green and is being interfered with by an abnormal course condition (Rule 16.1d) or you've exhausted the drop procedure. For the former, an example would be if your ball came to rest on the green in a puddle (temporary water). You would get free relief from the puddle, but remember not to drop the ball—place it. And to be clear, placing literally means setting it down with your hand, like you were releasing a bug back into the wild. Don't get cute with how you place it.

For that latter, you must place the ball after you've exhausted the dropping procedure. If you take two legal drops (remember to do it at knee height) and the ball lands in the appropriate relief area but then comes to rest outside the relief area both times, you then have to place the ball in the relief area as the third-and-final step for getting it back in play (Rule 14.3c(2)). Follow these instructions for how to place the ball:

First, place it on the spot where the ball that was dropped the second time initially touched the ground. If the placed ball does not stay at rest on that spot, the player must place a ball on that spot a second time. Finally, if the ball placed a second time also does not stay on that spot, the player must place a ball on the nearest spot where the ball will stay at rest, subject to the limits in Rule 14.2e. Note that this might result in the ball being placed outside the relief area.

There's one other time when you should place a ball instead of dropping. You might have seen the wet-and-soggy conditions at this year's AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am and realized the pros were able to lift, clean and place their balls under Model Local Rule E-3 (preferred lies). Getting this proceedure right is super important. Just ask Shad Tuten, who lost his chance at a PGA Tour card last October after being penalized for failing to place his ball correctly in a similar situation.

Getting back to when you should drop and when you should place, in virtually all other scenarios, you're likely dropping the ball when taking relief (penalty or free), but it's always wise to double check with the committee/course to make sure you're proceeding within the rules.

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