We're in that special hell of rules controversies with the implementation of the new Rules of Golf. There have been some growing pains with the new rules, and that has allowed the golf media to tee off on its favorite target, the USGA. Which, to be fair, can make itself an easy target:
“From my perspective, I would say by and large they’ve been a huge success,” Davis said.
That aside, I wanted to talk about the "controversy" about the knee-height drop that the Rules now require. Rickie Fowler got a one stroke penalty for dropping from shoulder height this past weekend. Cue the complaining from him:
“I think, with the new rules that have been put in place, it’s not doing any favors for our sport. I think it will definitely be changed,” he said. “We have been making fun of the knee drop for so long that it was ingrained the first time I took a drop this year. Like, ‘This is an iconic moment. I get to drop from my knee and look stupid.’ So, no, like I said, it was on me, but I think it’s a terrible change.”
I can forgive him - he just had a brain fart, probably didn't gain an advantage in this situation, it cost him money. I'm always annoyed when I get a penalty, personally, and it's absolutely never my fault, okay?
But cue the pearl clutching from the media:
3. Rickie Fowler was the first high-profile player to be dinged for the new drop rule when he hit a shot OB in Mexico and then dropped from shoulder height — only to be penalized an additional stroke because he didn’t drop from the new knee-height level. Fowler described the new rule as a “terrible change,” echoing the sentiments of several others pros who have spoken about the new dropping procedure. Should pros just quit their moaning and adapt, or do they have a point here?
Dethier: Yeah, this one’s dumb. There was no real need for the knee-height thing in the first place, but if the goal is for more lenient rules, let’s make it a strike zone, knee-high and up. Then we’d be able to stop talking about it.
Sens: I don’t mind knee-height as the low bar, and none of this stuff is all that tough to understand. But Dylan’s right. Penalizing for a higher drop is beyond ridiculous.
Ritter: Oh, pros are free to moan away. Their livelihoods depend on these rules. Many of the new rules are simpler and a clear improvement. The knee-high drop is a miss, though.
Bamberger: It looks ridiculous, just as dropping blind and over the shoulder looked ridiculous. The rule should be amended, knee-height to shoulder height.
I'm here to tell you that this is wrong, and knee-height drops actually make a ton of sense.
One of the best things the new Rules do is simplify dropping. Now, all you have to do when dropping is land the ball in the relief area (without touching you or your equipment before hitting the ground) and ensure the ball comes to rest in the relief area. If you don't do this, you have to redrop. Pretty simple. Yes, you have to figure out what your relief area is, but that's pretty simple, too. (For a fuller explanation of this, see Rule 14 and the definitions in the Rules of Golf.)
The old rules were much more complex. Specifically, if your ball rolled to one of 9 areas after you dropped it, you had to redrop. For example, if your ball rolled more than 2 club lengths away from where your ball hit the ground, you had to redrop. You had to know all of these 9 areas to know if you needed to redrop or not.
So, the new way is simpler, right? Instead of learning 9 different triggers for a redrop, you only have to learn 1. Great!
Why am I talking about when you have to redrop? This is why we're dropping from knee height. Generally, under the new Rules, your ball cannot go as far after hitting the ground as it used to without triggering a redrop. Dropping from knee height reduces the chance that a redrop will be necessary. It also means that a ball has less of a chance of embedding in sand when you drop it. It makes a ton of sense, really.
Now, you might say, that's all fine, but why not allow dropping a ball from anywhere above knee height? I think you could easily game the rules to be able to place the ball when you really want to by simply dropping from shoulder height instead of knee height. Think about dropping on a side slope, for example. You're much more likely to have to redrop and place if you drop the ball from a higher point. Sure, this is rare, but why take the chance?
We're all on the same page, right? Knee-height drops make a lot of sense.
(If you want to know more about the changes to dropping, this is an excellent article that talks about this in a bit more detail: https://rulesgeeks.com/2018/12/30-days-of-2019-rules-changes-day-16-procedure-for-dropping-a-ball-in-playing-it-from-a-relief-area/)
Now to the point of all of this: golf media, please take 5 minutes to understand the rule before issuing a HAWT TAKE about the rule. The USGA has a one page sheet that explains the rule: http://www.usga.org/content/usga/home-page/rules-hub/rules-modernization/major-changes/new-procedure-for-dropping-a-ball.html. You don't come off very well when you fail to read that. I know it's fun and easy to just mindlessly bash the USGA, but they do get things right. This is one of them.
(Oh and by the way, the Rules are actually really good, as a whole. Maybe I'll talk about that in another post later.)