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A merciful new local rule

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This April, within a list of 2019 Rules Clarifications, the USGA and R&A quietly authorized a new Local Rule that you can expect to see enacted everywhere from the U.S. Open Championship to, if you’re lucky, your own club championship.  

New Local Rule E-12 provides some protection from an unintended consequence of Rule 14.3c, which requires that your ball come to rest in the relief area for the drop you’re taking. When I first read about this option, I confess that I was a bit skeptical. But now that I’ve experienced the Local Rule in action, its value has become very clear.  

My initial skepticism came from the fact that I like it that every time, we drop we now must drop in a relief area. I also like the simplicity of requiring the ball to come to rest in that relief area — no more awkward need to figure out if your ball stayed within two club lengths of the point where your drop first struck the course, as used to be the case.  So right from the start, I was very comfortable with the new rules in this regard. But in some cases, particularly for those who haven’t carefully studied the revised rules, this simple approach has caused problems. 

The freedom this new Local Rule provides applies exclusively to back-on-the-line relief drops, such as you might make from penalty areas or for unplayable balls. It’s a bit complicated, but let me take you through how it helps. We’ll use yellow-staked penalty areas as an example. Last year, for back-on-the-line drops such as these, you’d identify the point where your ball last crossed the margin of the water hazard and draw an imaginary line from the flagstick through that point, select a nice place to drop anywhere you chose back along that line, and then let it drop. If you picked a point sufficiently back, and your ball didn’t hit anything prohibited, and it didn’t stop more than two club lengths from where you dropped it, you were good to go.  

This year, instead of dropping on that imaginary line, you drop in a relief area that surrounds that imaginary line. Just like before, you identify the edge of the penalty area where your ball last crossed, go back as far as you wish along an imaginary line from the flagstick through that point — but now you should identify a relief area around your selected drop location. To do so, you pick a point on the line, then define a relief area one club length from that point no closer to the hole. So you typically have a semicircle two club lengths in diameter in which to drop. If you drop a foot or two back from the front edge of the semicircle, there’s almost always no problem with the ball coming to rest outside the releif area and you’ll be ready to play.  But if you drop right on the front edge of your defined relief area, or if you didn’t bother to identify a point/relief area along the imaginary line before you dropped, and your ball bounces and comes to rest even the slightest bit forward — it’s now outside the relief area and subject to a two-stroke or loss of hole penalty for playing from the wrong place if you end up hitting the ball before correcting your mistake.

That might seem kind of harsh — you take a back-on-the-line drop like you did last year, it bounces and stops an inch forward, you hit it — and you get severely penalized.  If you had simply established the relief area an inch or two forward, things would have been perfectly legal! The 2019 rules, in their effort to simplify and make consistent the drop/relief procedure, created an unintended potential trap for players that weren’t careful enough managing their business. This seemed like it was going to be a big enough problem that the USGA and R&A decided to graciously do something about it:  Introduce Model Local Rule E-12.

When this Local Rule is adopted, a player is given some additional freedom. If he or she applies the relief area/drop principles correctly, there is, of course, still no problem.  But if he or she ends up with the ball somewhat outside the relief area, there still might be no penalty. As long as the ball originally struck the course within where the relief area should be, and as long as it didn’t come to rest more than one club length from where it first hit the course when dropped, you can still play it penalty-free (as long as it’s not nearer the hole than where the ball originally lay in the case of an unplayable ball drop, or nearer the hole than the edge of the penalty area where the ball last crossed for a penalty area drop).

While all that’s a bit complicated sounding, in practice it’s intuitive. And as an added bonus, it probably doesn’t matter if you don’t understand it or even know it’s in force — there are simply more occasions when you can blissfully, even ignorantly, play on penalty-free.

This new Local Rule provides another advantage as well. When it’s in effect, an opponent or ref (or a TV viewer) won’t have to concern themselves with whether or not the player making the drop actually followed the recommendation of first defining a relief area before making a back-on-the-line drop. If you’re at a distance, and you see a player taking a drop which bounces slightly forward, you can relax. You don’t have to wonder whether or not you should rush up and confirm that the ball didn’t squeak out of the player’s intended relief area in an effort to prevent the player from incurring a penalty.  One way or another, everything is more than likely just fine.

With all that in mind, maybe you’d like to see the specific wording of E-12:

“When taking Back-On-the-Line relief, there is no additional penalty if a player plays a ball that was dropped in the relief area required by the relevant Rule (Rule 16.1c(2), 17.1d(2), 19.2b or 19.3b) but came to rest outside the relief area, so long as the ball, when played, is within one club-length of where it first touched the ground when dropped.

“This exemption from penalty applies even if the ball is played from nearer the hole than the reference point (but not if played from nearer the hole than the spot of the original ball or the estimated point where the ball last crossed the edge of the penalty area).

“This Local Rule does not change the procedure for taking Back-On-the-Line relief under a relevant Rule. This means that the reference point and relief area are not changed by this Local Rule and that Rule 14.3c(2) can be applied by a player who drops a ball in the right way and it comes to rest outside the relief area, whether this occurs on the first or second drop.” 

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Howard J. Meditz is the author of "Get a Grip on the 2019 Rules of Golf," available on Amazon. He has been a referee for the United States Golf Association, the Metropolitan Golf Association, the Woman’s Metropolitan Golf Association, the Westchester Golf Association, and the American Junior Golf Association. He is a member of the Metropolitan Golf Association’s Rules and Competitions Committee and has been awarded “the highest level of rating” in knowledge of the Rules of Golf by the PGA of America and the USGA, and holds their “Expert” Rules Certification for the 2019 Rules of Golf. He writes a regular rules column for the Connecticut State Golf Association’s "CSGA Links" magazine, is a Featured Writer for GolfWRX.com, and a member of the Metropolitan Golf Writers Association. He is also the author of "How to Love the Rules of Golf." He can be reached at howard.meditz@gmail.com

6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. Mad-Mex

    Jun 23, 2019 at 5:31 pm

    How about just PLACING the ball ? Would also speed up play!

  2. logan

    Jun 22, 2019 at 1:53 am

    zero chance those are mens pants

  3. TobyFark McGeezax

    Jun 21, 2019 at 9:41 pm

    Horribly boring article. No wonder golf is dying.

  4. CrashTestDummy

    Jun 21, 2019 at 1:37 pm

    Can’t stand the new drop rule. They should amend it to where you can’t drop the ball lower than your knee, but allow you to drop it from any height above that legally. There is no advantage from dropping it higher. The penalties on players dropping it the old way was ridiculous.

    • 15th Club

      Jun 22, 2019 at 8:11 am

      You clearly don’t understand why the Rule was changed. The height of a drop was mandatorily lowered, so that dropped balls are less likely to bounce out of the relief area upon hitting the ground. Or to plug, when dropped in a bunker.

      And the USGA took the time to explain this Rule to Dummy’s like you, HERE:

      https://www.usga.org/content/usga/home-page/rules-hub/rules-modernization/major-changes/new-procedure-for-dropping-a-ball.html

      • Tiger Noods

        Jun 24, 2019 at 5:30 am

        That’s completely bogus, because as you likely recall, the USGA was originally going to be ok with “dropping” from 1 inch.

        Either the drop should be able to finish its drop within the defined relief area, or the rule should be that the ball may be PLACED instead of dropped.

        The 12″ arbitrary limit / knee height was borne of people saying that a one inch drop amounted to placing. Well, it’s one or another. I’m happy that you could place after a penalty, but it’s just flatly dumb to penalizing a ball dropped from higher than the required amount. And there’s no “dummy” explanation; they backtracked and still got it wrong.

        Placing, or a drop from a MINIMUM height. Dropping from a height above a maximum of knee height will go away as soon as the USGA has enough time to wipe the egg off their faces.

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Opinion & Analysis

Chat with a (soon-to-be) PGA Tour champion: Sam Ryder

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From 2003 through 2008, I had a side job as a high school golf coach for Bishop Moore High School in Orlando, Florida. One of the kids to come up through the ranks during my tenure at Bishop Moore was a young man named Sam Ryder. Now, at 29 years of age, Sam is in his sophomore season on the PGA Tour, qualifying by way of his second-place finish in the standings on the 2017 (then) Web.com Tour.

Ryder played on the PGA Tour Canada in 2014 and 2015. In 2015, he finished fourth in the PGA Tour Canada Order of Merit earning a place on the Web.com Tour for 2016.

In July 2017, Ryder had his first Web.com win, at the Pinnacle Bank Championship, finishing eight strokes ahead of the field. He finished second in the 2017 Web.com Tour regular season rankings to gain a place on the PGA Tour for 2018.

In his rookie campaign on the PGA Tour, Sam had a T2 finish at the John Deere, a fifth-place finish at the Houston Open and a T7 at the Barbasol Championship. He finished the year ranked 101 in the FedEx Cup Race.
This year, despite battling an injury, Sam has a third at the Shriners, a T4 at the Safeway and just last week, a T18 at the John Deere. He is currently ranked 92nd in the FedEx Cup standings and 190th in the World Golf Rankings.

I recently caught up with Sam to chat about his run-up to the PGA Tour and all the various experiences that go along with that.

So, let’s go back to your Bishop Moore days…when I was coaching my last year of vrsity, I think you were a junior. Sean took over your senior year. Curious, if back then, did you aspire of playing professionally?

SR: Generally, yes, I think I always saw myself playing baseball growing up. I wanted to be a professional in Major Leagues. When I turned to golf, I continued the path. I have always thought, “Why put in the effort if you don’t have a means to an end?” Without putting the goal on paper, it was always the end goal: to see how far I can go.

How about your years at Stetson? How did that play into your development as a future PGA Tour star?

SR: Stetson was my only Division 1 scholarship offer, and actually the only school I applied to. I knew I wanted to give golf a shot. Playing Division 1 in Florida was going to give me my best opportunity to get better.

At what point during your rise through the Canadian and Web.com did you really feel like you had what it took to play full time on the PGA Tour?

SR: I’ve always just wanted to see how good I can get. I love the game of golf, so it’s easy for me to work hard. I never knew if I was going to be a failed pro who never made it on tour or make it to number one in the world. But I’ve always been driven by the competitive nature of the sport and wanting to see where I “stack up” so to speak.

What was the most eye-opening part of playing full time on the PGA Tour for you?

SR: I think the biggest challenge of being a PGA Tour rookie is trying to learn all of the new golf courses. Everything about being a rookie on Tour is setting you up to be uncomfortable. Rookies are really behind the eight-ball when they get out there. Until you’re able to get into a routine and develop a level of comfort it’s hard to expect good results. I wanted to stay true to my approach for the most part. I earned my way on the PGA Tour and knew I was good enough based on the success I had on the Web.com Tour. I’m always trying to get better, but I wanted to do it my way, the way that got me there. It’s really easy to try to be someone you’re not when you get on Tour.

You have been in contention multiple times on the weekend and deep into a Sunday, what have you taken as the biggest positive from those experiences and what do you feel you still need to work on in regard to notching that first win?

SR: Biggest positive: playing well in big-time pressure moments. I haven’t really “lost” an event, so to speak. I have come from behind to make a good push. Knowing that when I am in these situations, and the adrenaline is going, I am able to hit the shots and make the putts. It gives me confidence that I am not going to fold in a pressure situation.

Something that everyone is always working on, including Tiger Woods, is to stay in the moment. As cliche as that is, it is a constant struggle to focus on the task at hand. Don’t get too high or low- treat each shot for what it is…

As a PGA Staff Professional with Cleveland/Srixon for several years, I know how great the equipment is with them. What had you join their team as a staff Tour Professional?

SR: I’ve been with Cleveland since I turned pro in 2012-13, they were the first manufacturer to approach me, and I love their equipment from the ball to the wedges and now the irons and driver.

What currently are you and your coach working on?

SR: Having missed significant time due to injury recently, we are just working on a lot of the same things I have been working on, my swing doesn’t change much. Right now, distance control with the irons and wedges is a focus.

Any veteran Tour members welcome you as a new member when you first came out? Kind of show you the ropes.

SR: Former player, Fulton Allem, gave me advice about managing strengths and weaknesses. Some players get so consumed with their weakness that they lose their strengths. Other players maximize their strengths and have awareness and the ability to monitor and play around their weaknesses. That goes along with the importance of staying true to your identity as a player as opposed to trying to be someone you’re not.

Chris DiMarco has been a mentor to me, growing up in the Orlando area. He has been able to provide guidance and support over the past few years, as I navigate my first years on TOUR.

For the most part veteran players as a whole have been accommodating and welcoming and are happy to share knowledge along the way.

So, what’s a typical work week look like for you? Tournament week and non?

SR: Tournament Weeks are pretty consistent…

Monday- is usually a travel day and I make a point to good work out in that day, as it’s a day off from golf Tuesday- I play nine holes
Wed- Pro-am
I go to the gym every day before I go to the course, just to get my body warmed up. Thursday and Friday rounds alternate AM/ PM tee times. I get up three hours before regardless of the time of the round, just to get body ready.

Non-Tournament Weeks…
When I am home, I go to the gym with my trainer, Alex Bennet @ TPC Sawgrass performance center 5/6 times per week. Usually, Monday and Tuesday are days off from golf, to give my body a rest.

I practice on Wed/ Thursday and play money games with other TOUR players on the weekend, to keep my game sharp and prepare for the high stakes the next week. I live less than a mile from the beach, and I enjoy going there to relax. I spend time visiting friends too.

You’ve become somewhat of a fashion icon on tour…what is your take on style and dress on Tour? It seems like a big thing for an observer from this side of the ropes…a way of self-marketing perhaps or standing out from the pack?

SR: I definitely care about my style on the golf course. I’m certainly not afraid to make a little bit of a fashion statement and wear things other players may not be willing to wear. The clothes I wear can definitely contribute to some added confidence, and confidence is one of the most important components to playing good golf.

Curious on your take of the health of golf in general?

SR: I think it’s great. The game of golf is in a good spot. I think Tiger Woods being relevant is massively important to the game, it brings sponsors and more viewers to the game. There is a great crop of young players right now. It is in a healthy, sustainable spot. Jay Monahan really has the TOUR moving in a good direction.

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The 19th Hole: Gary Player, Irish ambassadors talk Open in Northern Ireland

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Hall of Famer Gary Player returns to the 19th Hole to talk about the Championship, his record and his favorites to win this year. Also features Irish Ambassador to the U.S. Dan Mulhall and Northern Ireland Consul Director Norman Houston.

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes or here to listen on Spotify.

Want more GolfWRX Radio? Check out our other shows (and the full archives for this show) below. 

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TG2: Up early watching The Open Live! SPOILER ALERT!

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Rob talks Knudson into getting up WAY early to watch The Open Championship. Talking about live play, Darren Clarke’s hair, and how Rory started his day. Definitely spoilers, so don’t listen if you are recording!

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes or here to listen on Spotify.

Want more GolfWRX Radio? Check out our other shows (and the full archives for this show) below. 

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