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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: https://www.golfdigest.com/story/despite-harsh-words-from-some-tour-pros-usga-pleased-with-roll-out-of-new-rules-of-golf. 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: https://golfweek.com/2019/02/22/rickie-fowler-hit-with-one-shot-penalty-for-illegal-drop-at-wgc-mexico-championship/ 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: https://www.golf.com/news/2019/02/25/backstopping-pro-tours-under-policed/ 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.)
Here's Mike Bender, otherwise a good instructor, doling out some misguided information. First, let's see how accurate that is: At 100 yards in the rough, PGA Tour players average 3.02. At 175 in the fairway, they average 3.07. Close enough. At 80, it's 2.96. At 155, it's 2.97. Close enough. At 120, it's 3.08. At 195, it's 3.17. That's not super close - it's a tenth of a stroke, or 1.4 strokes in favor of being in the rough per round. At 140, it's 3.15. At 215, it's 3.3. Not really close. Over a round with 14 driver holes, that's 2.1 strokes. Here's the other problem, and it's one commonly made by people who make comments like "distance sounds great but I don't want to play every drive from the trees." This isn't how it works. The longer hitters are not "hitting from the trees" all that often. In fact, despite what Mike Bender says, they're not hitting from the ROUGH much more often, either. Look at the 2017 driving accuracy stats. First place: 72.73% (by absolute world-beater [sarcasm] Ryan Armour). A player who hits 2 fewer fairways ranks all the way down at almost 125th place (at about 58.44% fairways hit). Those people are Bryson DeChambeau, Justin Rose, and Branden Grace. Being as little as 20 yards ahead on EVERY tee shot OFTEN outweigh the disadvantage of being in the rough one to two extra times per round. (72.73% of 14 is 10.18, 58.44% is 8.18.) It's not like short hitters are gaining strokes with every drive. Truth be told, they're only gaining strokes on about 2 to 2.5 drives per round. On the other 12 or so, they're losing strokes to the longer hitters: they're losing strokes on the 8.18 fairways the longer hitters also hit, and the 3.82 fairways that even the short hitters miss. Mike Bender should know better. One of his students, Zach Johnson, would absolutely take an extra 20-30 yards, even if it came at the cost of a fairway or two per round. After all…