Golf Rules: Wrong drop costs Rory McIlroy two strokes

At the start of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am and its proud prize money of 20 million US dollars, Rory McIlroy had to accept a severe penalty. Golf Post takes a look at the rules and reveals where you can drop the ball in the event of a relief.

Rules of golf: What did Rory McIlroy do wrong?

In Round 1 of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am 2024, Rory McIlroy’s ignorance proved to be the Northern Irishman’s undoing. In his first appearance on the PGA Tour this year, “Roars” had to accept a severe penalty after his tee shot on hole 7 of the Spyglass Hill Golf Course rushed into the botany of the par 5. The four-time major winner found his ball in the deep grass under one of the pine trees at Pebble Beach. Initially, the Northern Irishman considered hitting the ball from there before finally deciding to take relief. But when he dropped the ball, a rule change from the beginning of 2023 had consequences for the European’s scorecard.

The rules of golf on the back-on-the-line relief

McIlroy dropped the ball right of a tee, that was supposed to act as the reference line to the pin, with a clear conscience within one club length of the line. He continued his game and finished the par 5 with a bogey, but his relief to the right of the imaginary straight had an aftermath. What had been permitted since 2019 and until the beginning of 2023 has since been changed. A look at the official rules of golf provides information on the correct procedure for the drop. Rule 19.2b (relief “back on the line”) states this:

The player may drop the original ball or another ball (see Rule 14.3) behind the spot of the original ball, keeping the spot of the original ball between the hole and the spot where the ball is dropped (with no limit as to how far back the ball may be dropped). The spot on the line where the ball first touches the ground when dropped creates a relief area that is one club-length in any direction from that point, but with these limits:

Limits on Location of Relief Area:

  • Must not be nearer the hole than the spot of the orignal ball, and
  • May be in any area of the course, but
  • Must be in the same area of the course that the ball first touched when dropped.

The penalty for a false drop

McIlroy’s mistake was to take the relief one club length to the right of the reference line. The ball is allowed to fall on the line and roll up to one club length in either direction. However, Rory took a club length off the line and dropped it into what he thought was a relief area. That was still correct in 2019, but it changed in 2023. As a result, he acted against the rules by not dropping the ball again and was penalised two strokes under Rule 14.3 (4) (“What to do if Ball Dropped in Wrong Way”):

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.

It was this general penalty (two penalty strokes in counting play) that was to be McIlroy’s undoing on the leaderboard. The 34-year-old learnt of the penalty after the end of the round, accepted the rules’ interpretation and signed his scorecard. Three strokes under par became just one stroke under par, because his single bogey turned into a triple bogey. The officials discovered the offence through the use of the video team that takes care of the reviews.

Rory McIlroy: “I wasn’t aware that that rule was changed”

Rory McIlroy analysed the offence after the round: “[U]nbeknownst to me, the rule changed in January 2023 where you used to be able to come back on-line, take a club length either side. That was changed in 2019 to be able to do that. I wasn’t aware that that rule was changed again in 2023, so I took a drop thinking of the 2019 rules when everything was sort of changed, not knowing that the rule was changed again in 2023, so got a two-stroke penalty there.”

Professionals Rules

Koepka’s caddie, Lydia Ko’s misunderstanding and more – The most bizarre rule situations in 2023

In 2023, there were also some curious rules situations. In addition to the ignorance of the golfers, the triggers included a hit golf cart and a forgotten club in the tournament bag. The intervention of the officials often had bitter consequences and shattered a few dreams this year. One thing is certain, whether quintuple bogey or disqualification, a glance at the rules would have prevented a number of situations.

Aerated greens: Honesty wins over course record

Tommy Kuhl, college golfer, experienced emotional ups and downs at a local US Open qualifying tournament. First, he broke the course record (62) at Illini Country Club and made it to the next qualifying stage. But the player from the University of Illinios had a rude awakening when he spoke to his teammates. When they mentioned after the end of the round how difficult they had found it to putt on aerated Greens, the student realized that he had repaired the effects of aerification more than once. According to Rule 13.1c, repairs can be made, but there is a clear reference to soil aeration: “Damage to the Green does not include damage or conditions caused by normal maintenance work to preserve the Green (such as soil aeration holes and grooves from scarifying).” This gave Kuhl a “queasy feeling” and as he could not reconcile this with his conscience, he let the officials know about his actions. As a result, he indirectly disqualified himself, his course record was annulled and his dream of a US Open was to remain a dream.

Rare faux pas costs qualification for PGA tournament

The next tragic but also honest character in the year’s rule situations is Hayden Springer. The Texan made a momentous gaffe in the final of the qualifying tournament for the Rocket Mortgage Classic. On Monday, it was a four-player play-off for the three spots for the tournament itself in the same week. Before that, Springer practiced on the driving range after his round of 66, which qualified him for the play-off, and waited for the rest of the field. On the range, he practiced with a club that had not previously been part of his 14-strong tournament bag. When he walked onto the fairway at Fieldstone Golf Club in Auburn Hills on the first playoff hole after teeing off, it sent shivers down his spine. Hayden Springer remembered that the 15th club was still in the bag. He immediately reported the mistake to the rules officials, which is particularly creditable as nobody knew about it. He then played par on the first play-off hole like two of his competitors, while one of the other three players only recorded bogey. In purely playing terms, Springer would have made it. But despite his integrity, the rules had to be adhered to and he received two penalty strokes for the infringement. The resulting double bogey cost him his long-awaited qualification for the PGA Tour event.

Debut ends quickly: Lack of knowledge is no defense against penalties

Another bitter situation was experienced by Zach Williams. The 24-year-old American won a spot in the June Memorial Health Championship on the Korn Ferry Tour via a Monday Qualifier. It was his debut on the tour and it was to end very quickly after two holes. Williams used his rangefinder on hole 1, as he had done on Monday, and was penalized two strokes. On the second hole, the same offense led to the American’s immediate disqualification. The Korn Ferry Tour allows distance aids in qualifying tournaments, but not in official events. The player in question commented on X (formerly Twitter) about the “hard to swallow” breach of the rules. There, Williams said he thought the Korn Ferry Tour had adjusted the rules and that you were allowed to use the rangefinder at the other pro events. However, he also admitted that he should have known about this rule.

Lydia Ko’s unfortunate misunderstanding leads to seven penalty strokes

A player who no longer has to worry about qualifying is Lydia Ko. As a two-time major winner and former number one in the world rankings, the New Zealander is a permanent fixture on the LPGA Tour. But even a multiple tournament winner is not immune to problems with the rules. At the Dana Open in July, replacing the ball was made possible without penalty for the entire third round after heavy rainfall. When round 4 started on Sunday, the pro assumed that this would continue to apply. But on the 11th hole, the officials realized what had long been forbidden at Highland Meadows Golf Club on Sunday, except for holes 1 and 10.

Ko generally assumed replacing the ball was still possible and made use of it on the fairways of holes 3 (par), 7 (par) and 9 (bogey). As she never returned her ball to its original position, she was penalized two strokes for each offence under Rule 14.7a for playing from the wrong position. On the 11th hole, she was given an additional stroke under Rule 9.4 for deliberately picking up the cue ball. However, she continued to play from the original position. So four strokes under par became two over on the leaderboard. This was tantamount to dropping 41 spots.

Upsetting rule situation: Defending champion with a start to forget

Anna Davis won the Augusta National Women’s Amateur last year. But in April 2023, things went wrong right from the start. The 17-year-old started with a bogey on hole 1, but that wasn’t the problem. It was the following: On hole 1, she picked up her ball twice, as is customary when changing the ball position. But then the officials intervened. On the Champions Retreat Course next to Augusta National, changing the ball position in the first round was allowed, but only on short grass and not, as in Davis’ case, in the rough. The amateur conceded two penalty strokes per offense in Georgia. Result: Quintuple bogey. According to the youngster, she had asked her scorer whether repositioning would apply everywhere. In spite of his lack of knowledge, the scorer answered in the affirmative and the bogey turned into a five-shot loss. The US-American took it sportingly and saw it as an “instructive experience”. In the end, she missed the cut.

Controversial decision by a few centimeters costs PGA Tour Card

The final round of the Korn Ferry Tour in Indiana was the deciding round for next year’s PGA Tour Cards. Then, at the Korn Ferry Tour Championship, Shad Tuten involuntarily attracted the attention of the officials. He was already certain that he was one of the top 30 players with a playing license and went into the clubhouse. But according to the rules officials, the 31-year-old made a mistake on hole 15 following a trip into the rough. When he placed the ball back on the ground after the “lift, clean and place” procedure, it rolled forward by a few centimetres. Tuten played on, but the barely visible movement had an aftermath. He was subsequently penalized two strokes. The birdie on hole 15 turned into a bogey and 30th place into 32nd. This meant that his eligibility to play on the PGA Tour, which he thought was certain, was history, as Rule 14.2e states that you have to try again to place a ball that does not come to rest. The committee therefore decided in accordance with Rule 14.7b: “The result with the ball that was played from the wrong location counts and the player incurs the basic penalty under Rule 14.7a in addition to the result with this ball (this means that two penalty strokes are added to the result with this ball).”

Uproar surrounding Brooks Koepka’s caddie at the US Masters 2023

Things got heated in the first round of the US Masters 2023. But not because of Brooks Koepka, who hit a 5-iron onto the green on hole 15 with his second shot and later putted for birdie. It was because of Ricky Elliott, the caddie of the five-time major winner, who apparently said something to his flight partner Gary Woodland and his caddie. “Five” is said to have been the word of agitation, which he probably used to refer to Koepka’s club. Koepka’s hand movement when taking off his glove was also scrutinized as suspicious. However, this would have violated Rule 10-2a, which prohibits giving advice to other caddies or players and is punishable by two penalty strokes. Whether the player is directly involved or only his caddie is giving advice is irrelevant. The Masters officials therefore questioned those involved, but they denied the accusations. Koepka did not consider Elliot to be at fault, as Woodland is even said to have asked him which club he had used on the way to the Green. In the end, the incident went without a penalty and the caddie’s behavior went unpunished, although the upset was significant.

“One in a Million”: Matthias Schwab hits golf cart and spectacularly drops the ball

The next incident was not about a potential penalty, but about the question of how to deal with a strange situation. Matthias Schwab missed his shot during the first round of the 2023 Players Championship and the ball flew towards the spectators as the Austrian shouted “Fore”. The golf cart of the Sky television team led by German reporter Flo Bauer drove past on the cart path and the ball got caught in the vehicle. The crew hit the brakes and an official came to the rescue. The elderly gentleman asked Schwab to put a tee under the cart and mark the spot. Bauer then drove out of the way and things continued in a strange way. Because when the Austrian dropped his ball on the tarred surface, the ball didn’t move an inch despite several bounces and came to rest. You really rarely see a drop like that!

Highlights Tours Knowledge Rules

Fourball – an exciting form of tournament play

Fourball (also called bestball or fourball) is played in golf with two, three or four players per team. Each golfer in a team plays his or her own ball. However, after each hole, only the best score is included in the team score. If one player locks in a four and the team partner needs five or more strokes, only the four is scored.

The fourball format holds some tactical possibilities: In the team it can be decided, for example, that one player plays more on risk and attacks the flag directly in order to win the hole (in match play). The other team partner tries to provide back-up by trying to place the ball safely on the green and thus take the pressure off. Who takes on which role depends on the current game situation.

Fourball with numerous variations

If a player with a very low handicap competes against players with a higher handicap, another variant is conceivable: The strong golfer is on his or her own and plays alone against a team that can take advantage of the synergy. In addition, the pairing of low handicap with high handicap is advantageous in fourball tournaments played according to Stableford. Such tournaments are often offered at the beginning or end of the season, when the course is not yet or no longer in the best condition.

In stroke play, the best scores of all the holes played by a team are added together and the total number is counted at the end of the course. In match play, as it is played at the Ryder Cup or Solheim Cup for example, you play against your opponents for each hole. The team that needs fewer strokes for the respective hole gets a point. In the event of a tie, the hole is split – both teams receive half a point. The team that wins the most holes wins the match.

Highlights Tours Knowledge Rules

Foursome format – the rules in match play

In foursomes, two teams (usually two players each) compete against each other. Within a team, players take turns stroke by stroke: Player “A” tees off. Once at the ball, player B takes the second shot with the same ball. This continues until the respective team has holed the ball in team work.

A tactically extremely important decision is made by the team before the match even begins: the two team members agree on who will tee off on the even holes and who will tee off on the odd holes. Depending on who feels confident with their driver or irons, the par 3 and par 5 holes can be divided accordingly.

Foursomes – Matchplay with your partner

Foursomes can be played both as stroke play and as match play. Alltough the match play variant is the most common and is also played in this form at major team events such as the Ryder Cup and the Solheim Cup. In English, the foursomes format of play is also often referred to as the “Alternate Shot”.

The Foursome Teams at the Ryder Cup and Solheim Cup

In major tournaments such as the Ryder Cup or the Solheim Cup, the captains of both teams have to take great care in deciding their lineups for the foursomes format. Playing strength and current form must be factored into the decision on pairings, but equally the captains would have to pay attention to the human element in the lineup – the players must function as a team.

In addition, golfers should ideally complement each other in many ways. For example, a popular option is to pair rookies, who are on the team for the first time in a major tournament, with an experienced player. Some pairings have already proven themselves in previous events and have a strong record together – so it is logical not to change anything. In the end, gut feeling certainly plays a not insignificant role in the pairing of the captains.


World Rankings: Would You Make the Cut?

Official World Golf Ranking Governing Board announces updates to the Ranking System
Modified system for the 23 Eligible Golf Tours to go into effect Week Ending 14th August 2022.

London, United Kingdom – The Governing Board of Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR) today announces enhancements to the Official World Golf Ranking. The updated system will incorporate modern statistical techniques which will allow all eligible players and events to be more accurately evaluated relative to each other.

Over the last three years, OWGR has coordinated an independent analysis of the Ranking and its system to ensure it is meeting its key objectives of publishing a transparent, credible and accurate ranking based on the relative performances of participating players. The results of this analysis have led to the changes announced today, including distribution of Ranking Points to all players making the cut to provide greater differentiation of performances; and use of a Field Rating calculation based on a statistical evaluation of every player in the field, rather than just those in the field among the current Top-200 of the Ranking.

Major Championships will continue to award 100 First Place Points, while THE PLAYERS Championship will award 80. All other tournaments will award Ranking Points according to the strength and depth of their fields, with a maximum of 80 First Place Points.

Click here for additional details, Frequently Asked Questions, and definitions about the updated OWGR Ranking System.

“The Official World Golf Ranking owes a massive debt of gratitude to founders Mark H McCormack and Tony Greer, whose vision has done so much to shape the competitive landscape of men’s professional golf over the past 35 years”, said Official World Golf Ranking Chairman Peter Dawson. “Since 1986, the Tours eligible for inclusion have grown in number from 6 to 23 and the rankings have been continuously modified to accommodate this expansion and to improve accuracy. We are confident the further enhancements announced today will best position OWGR for the years ahead.”

Following a 12-month notice period, implementation is set for Week Ending 14th August 2022 at which point all future eligible tournaments will utilize the updated system. There will be no recalculation of past events, meaning the impact of the new methodology will be gradual.


Saadiyat Beach Golf Club & Yas Links Abu Dhabi To Eliminate All Single-Use Plastic Bottles

Abu Dhabi, UAE, 09 March 2021: Saadiyat Beach Golf Club and Yas Links Abu Dhabi, both of which are owned by Aldar Properties, have eliminated all single-use plastic bottles from its premises as of March 2021, underlining their commitment to environmental sustainability.

A combined total of over 100,000 plastic water bottles are consumed by golfers between the two properties on an annual basis. Joining the global movement to reduce the consumption of single-use plastics and conserve the environment, the goal is to reduce this figure by 40% this year. Members and guests will be encouraged to use and refill their own reusable water bottles from the water coolers throughout their round, these water coolers will be equipped with hand sanitizers following health & safety directives as well as ensuring a hygienic environment for players and associates alike.

Commenting on the new sustainable initiative Francisco de Lancastre David, Cluster General Manager at Saadiyat Beach Golf Club and Yas Links Abu Dhabi, commented:

As plastic waste and pollution increases, we should all be making a conscious effort to do our part. I’m proud to have both golf clubs onboard with this new sustainable initiative, which will reduce our carbon footprint significantly and I hope that our members and visitors will be encouraged by this when visiting the course.”

Saadiyat Beach Golf Club and Yas Links Abu Dhabi are committed to preserving the environment and promoting environmental best practice. With that in mind, Saadiyat Beach Golf Club has successfully completed the Audubon certification process and the golf course has been officially certified as a sanctuary. The International Audubon Society is dedicated to protecting diversity in bird species. The programmes include habitat protection, green energy development and the management of protected areas while encouraging the public to become a part of the birding community. The emphasis is on conserving urban habitats by promoting planting trees and dedicating time to creating bird friendly environment.

Saadiyat Beach Golf Club is home to over 180 bird species, families of Mountain Gazelle and is also a natural nesting area for the Hawksbill turtles, all these elements create an unparalleled experience which should be taken good care of. The programme is designed with sensitivity to the surrounding natural environment and in compliance with strict environmental guidelines.

To further cement their green footprint and dedication to making a difference, Saadiyat Beach Golf Club is already accredited for a number of certifications, such as Environmental Planning, Water Conservation, Water Quality Management and Chemical use Reduction and Safety.

The move to eliminate single-use plastic from the golf clubs is in line with the clubs’ owner, Aldar Properties’ sustainability strategy which is built around the key pillars of economy, community, people and environment. In December 2019, Aldar launched its first sustainability report which outlines its strategy and initiatives in detail.


PGA of America to Allow for Use of Distance-Measuring Devices during its Major Championships, Beginning 2021

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. (February 9, 2021) – The PGA of America today announced that, beginning in 2021, the use of distance-measuring devices will be allowed during competition rounds at its three annual Major Championships: the PGA Championship, KPMG Women’s PGA Championship and KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship. 

“We’re always interested in methods that may help improve the flow of play during our Championships,” said Jim Richerson, President of the PGA of America. “The use of distance-measuring devices is already common within the game and is now a part of the Rules of Golf.  Players and caddies have long used them during practice rounds to gather relevant yardages.” 

With this announcement, the distance-measuring devices used by players and/or caddies in PGA of America Championships will need to conform to the Rules of Golf regarding their use and performance: 

Rule 4.3a (1)

Distance and Directional Information.

  • Allowed: Getting information on distance or direction (such as from a distance-measuring device or compass).
  • Not Allowed: Measuring elevation changes, or interpreting distance or directional information (such as using a device to get a recommended line of play or club selection based on the location of the player’s ball).

This policy will debut with the 2021 PGA Championship, which will be played at The Ocean Course in Kiawah Island, South Carolina, from May 17-23. The PGA Championship perennially features the strongest field in golf based on the Official World Golf Rankings.

(Text: PGA of America Press Release)