PGA Championship

Valhalla Golf Club

Rules Review

Rules of Golf Review: I took a drop the old way from shoulder height. Is that a penalty now?


Christian Iooss

Golfers do lot of things on the golf course without giving them much thought, usually habits picked up over time. Banging the bottom of your shoes when you leave a bunker; celebrating prematurely before a putt falls; stepping over someone's putting line in such an exaggerated way (to let it be known you're doing the right thing) that it looks like you're wearing clown shoes.

But what happens when that old habit now runs counter to the Rules of Golf? For example, say you forgot that in 2019 the USGA and R&A laid out a new procedure regarding how to take a drop in relief area, and your mistakenly failed to drop a ball from the new “knee height” requirement (Rule 14.3b(2))? Maybe you were daydreaming, and simply did it the old way from shoulder height. Old habits die hard.

Does that matter? Well, yes. And if you don’t correct yourself, you could get hit with a penalty.

To refresh your memory, since the Rules of Golf were modernized in 2019, you now must drop your ball when taking relief from "knee height" when in a standing position. Don't confuse that, however, with meaning you have to be standing to drop. You could bend over or kneel and make a legal drop provided the height the ball is being dropped from is the same as if the player was standing and let it go next to his/her knee. Also, remember that the ball can't touch any part of your body when it's dropped and you can't do anything to influence its motion beyond releasing it. No spinning, flicking, tossing … you get the idea.

OK … so what happens if you forget to drop from knee height? The good news is that as long as you catch yourself before you go on to play your next stroke, you can correct the mistake without penalty. Here’s what it says in Rules (14.3b(4)):

What to do if Ball Dropped in Wrong Way.

If a ball is dropped in a wrong way in breach of one or more of the requirements in (1), (2) or (3):

  • The player must drop a ball again in the right way, and there is no limit to the number of times the player must do so.

  • A ball dropped in the wrong way does not count as one of the two drops required before a ball must be placed under Rule 14.3c(2).

This happened earlier in the year on the PGA Tour when rookie Sami Valimaki was in contention at the Mexico Open. On the 18th hole during the final round, his drive went way right and came to rest against a fence. While not out of bounds, Valimaki did have to take an unplayable lie.

Rough break.

The native of Finland went ahead and measured out a relief area and proceeded to take a drop. But when he dropped his ball he mistakenly did it from shoulder height.

Watching over this at the time was a PGA Tour rules official, who then explained to him his mistake and how to correct it. As it turned out, he got a much better lie when taking his “correct” drop.

So what happens if you don’t catch yourself and you go and play your next stroke? Well, there are consequences. Here’s what the Rules say in this instance:

If the player does not drop again and instead makes a stroke at the ball from where it came to rest after being dropped in a wrong way:

  • If the ball was played from the relief area, the player gets one penalty stroke (but has not played from a wrong place under Rule 14.7a).

  • But if the ball was played from outside the relief area , or after it was placed when required to be dropped (no matter where it was played from), the player gets the general penalty.

Back to Valimaki. After fixing his mistake, he wound up finishing in solo second, which meant cashing a $882,900 check compared to what might have happened if he didn’t fix things in real time. And the 300 FedEx Cup points he earned has him comfortably on his way to keeping his PGA Tour card and in contention for the FedEx Cup Playoffs.