In my opinion, this is one of the best Rules changes made for 2019, and it will eliminate a lot of confusion over how and where to drop and, more importantly, when a re-drop is required, and when placing becomes mandatory.

In 2018 and before, a player when taking relief (with or without penalty) was required to use this dropping procedure:

  • The player must drop the ball while standing erect and holding the ball at shoulder height and arm’s length. Fail to drop properly and the ball must be re-dropped (Rule 20-2a).
  • The ball must first strike the course in a specified place and must not strike any person or equipment before coming to rest. Fail to do that… and the ball must be re-dropped (Rule 20-2b this time).
  • The ball is then to be played from where it comes to rest, except that if it ends up in any of nine specific locations (such as nearer to the hole or more than two club-lengths from where it struck the course). Otherwise, you guessed it, it must be re-dropped (Rule 20-2c, sigh).
  • If the ball comes to rest in any of those nine locations when dropped a second time, the player was required to place the ball where it first struck the course on the second drop.

This is all going to be simplified in 2019 and beyond under Rule 14.3 when players are required to drop a ball when taking relief:

  • How a ball may be dropped is simplified; the only requirement is that the ball be released from knee height so that it falls through the air and does not touch any part of the player’s body or equipment before it hits the ground.
  • The focus of the dropping procedure will be on a specific “relief area” set by the Rule under which relief is being taken and will be either one or two club-lengths from a reference point (and may have certain other limitations).
  • The ball will need only to be dropped in and come to rest in the relief area. There will be no re-drop requirement if the dropped ball accidentally hits a person or object after hitting the ground but before coming to rest in the relief area.
  • If the dropped ball comes to rest outside the relief area, it will be dropped a second time. If it comes to rest outside the relief area after being dropped a second time it will be placed where it first touched the ground.
  • If the placed ball will not come to rest on that spot after two attempts, the player will then place the ball on the nearest spot (not nearer the hole) where it will come to rest.

This is much simpler, and requiring the ball to come to rest in the relief area shrinks the relief area, as well; the ball can no longer roll up to two club lengths away as it could in 2018.

The reasons for this change make sense:

  • The new procedure lowers the height from which the ball is dropped to increase the chance that it stays within the relief area, while retaining the randomness about where the ball will end up over the non-random precision of placing. For example, when dropping in thick rough, a ball may still find a bad or a good lie, while when placing a player could have guaranteed a good lie every time.
  • The new procedure avoids giving players more relief than necessary. In 2018, a dropped ball could roll up to two club-lengths away from where it hit the ground. This meant a ball could end up being played three club-lengths from the nearest point of relief from a cart path or Ground Under Repair, or up to four club-lengths from a lateral water hazard or an unplayable lie. Requiring that the ball be played from within the smaller relief area makes it much more likely that it will be played from nearer to where it originally came to rest.
  • Allowing the player to drop a ball from knee height will help to limit the extent to which a ball will embed in sand in a bunker.
  • The new procedure will mean there will be greater consistency across all relief procedures, making it simpler for players to know where and how to drop a ball. For example, in 2018, a player might be required to drop “as near as possible” to a certain spot, and questions can arise as to whether the spot chosen was “near enough.” The new rule provides an area, not just a “spot.”
  • It will be simpler for players to know when to re-drop a ball, as they won’t have to worry about nine different areas, whether the ball hit them or their equipment after hitting the ground, and so on. Under the new Rule, the player will only need to know that the ball must be re- dropped if it comes to rest outside the relief area.

Aside from the debate about how silly it might look for awhile to drop from knee height, overall, this is a great change! One of the best!