Are we set to see an end to the knee-high drop?

Rules of Golf

The PGA Tour stars aren't happy with the new Rules of Golf and they're letting everybody know about it. They want change and they want it now

Just to recap very, very briefly, the reason the knee-high drop came in was ‘to increase the chance that it (the ball) stays within the relief area’ and, therefore, speed up play.

The USGA’s Thomas Pagel explained that the change was a ‘package deal’.

“It’s not just a drop from knee height but now it’s a focus on the relief area. People say that dropping from shoulder height is simple, and it is, but under the old rules, there were nine different times you had to re-drop. We wanted to eliminate all those complications.”

The proposed changes originally said players could drop from any distance with the recommendation that it would be at least one inch above the ground but that was then revised.

But that was considered, as well as looking even more ridiculous than it does now, too hard to police and open to players just placing it. At least, from knee high, you could tell from a distance that your playing partner isn’t doing anything too untoward.

Instead we have now got this…

Jordan Spieth, the 2018 chairman of the Player Advisory Council on the PGA Tour and therefore the link between his peers and the big wigs, got stuck in straightaway at the Sony Open.

“You drop it knee height, but like, what’s the advantage of dropping it shoulder height? It’s actually probably a disadvantage, so why can’t you still do that? You should be able to drop it from shoulder to knee height in my opinion.”

A few days earlier DeChambeau said the same pretty much verbatim.

Fast forward to the Friday of the WGC in Mexico and, after a collection of near misses, we had Rickie Fowler transport himself back to pre 2019 and drop one from shoulder height.

His mind was likely a bit fuzzy as he had just shanked one out of bounds and, to add insult to the mental injury of piping one, he had to add a shot to his score. His caddie, by the way, was doing something with his bag so missed the infringement.

Afterwards Fowler chimed in with the general chorus of boos towards the new ruling: “With the new rules that have been put in place, it’s not doing any favours 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.”

Pagel said last week that they would try and reach out to Fowler to discuss the issue and try and explain the thinking behind the change. Despite what many of us might think the USGA and R&A’s new offerings were seven years in the making with over 30,000 golfers part of the feedback period.

There were then revisions, we knew they were coming and, slowly but surely, most of them seemed to be bedding in or, possibly, haven’t yet had the chance to stink out a tournament.

But the players now won’t let this particular whiff go away.

This week it appears that Pagel and Rickie might not have had the chance to catch up judging by his behaviour in the first round of the Honda.

Here, in the marquee group of the day in a tournament worth nearly $7m, Fowler’s position on the new ruling doesn’t appear to have softened much.

“I still don’t think anyone has found out a way to make it look cool, athletic or good. I think I’m still kind of making fun of the fact that we have to drop from our knee.”

Professional golfers are, generally speaking, a dream to promote anything; they will nauseatingly call tournaments by the name of the sponsor eg AT&T, Waste Management, they will gladly shoehorn in whatever the Tour want them to mention, they will keep their baseball caps on whenever in public and they will scratch their left ear in interviews to tick that particular box for their watch sponsor.

So when they do have something controversial to say then we all tend to sit up and fidget a bit. And when they do it together, you might think, given they are the stars of the show, they have quite a collective power.

Pagel spoke to Golf Digest after the year’s first tournament in Hawaii and explained this: “The most common question is guys trying to get a handle on the dropping procedure. Frankly, and I told this to them: If they do that incorrectly, that’s one area where they can be penalised if they act as they did in 2018.

“In a lot of areas we’ve removed penalties if they acted as they would before. In six weeks we’ll all forget about shoulder height.”

Except it’s not going away.

At the start of this week there were plenty of murmurings that the players were constantly in the commissioner Jay Monahan’s ear about the knee-high drop.

Then, after Adam Schenk was retroactively assessed a two-shot penalty for another caddie-alignment violation, Justin Thomas, who began the week by giving the new rules a pretty good kicking, then got stuck in again. And again and again.

After this third dig the USGA’s PR Twitter account called him out, publicly revealing that Thomas had failed to have a word in person.

The only slight drawback being that Thomas refutes what the USGA claimed.

“It was a little shocking. It was a little upsetting just because it was inaccurate. I haven’t cancelled anything, especially any meetings. But it is what it is, and all I want is the best for the game of golf and the best for the sport, and that’s what we’re going to continue to try to communicate with each other to get that. It is unfortunate. It really hurt me.”

They have now, like Fowler last week, arranged some sort of get-together. It’s good to talk.

This, for golf, is anarchy. When we all tried to digest the 2019 Rules of Golf we thought there would be teething problems, a bedding-in period, they’re all for the good of the game and we quite liked the other changes that had come in recent years, we’d remind ourselves, and then we’d be into the nuts and bolts of the season and concentrating on who wins what.

Well, we’re two weeks away from The Players, next month it’s The Masters and this topic is on the up and up and it’s all become quite ugly.

We’ve even got the good guys like Adam Scott saying things had become a ‘laughing stock’.

Billy Horschel, who played with Fowler and Thomas for the first two days of the Honda, summed it up as well as anyone.

“My buddies at home are making fun of these rules. People in the greater world of golf are making fun of them. Some of [the changes] are good, some of them are bad.

“But I told the USGA you guys aren’t the main influencer in the game of golf like you were 30, 40, 50 years ago. PGA Tour players are now the biggest influencer in the game of golf. What the golfer at home sees on TV, they’re going to copy us.”

Whether any of us pretend to do a number two while taking a drop in the coming weeks remains to be seen but we all sit up and notice whatever these superstars say and particularly when it’s as spiky as this.

These aren’t the rebel rousers of the tour, these are the players who are trotted out every single week to promote the tournaments, the faces on the covers of the magazines and the ones we all follow on social media. And, whether we like Twitter or not, this is the place to make things move.

The last word goes to the USGA’s Pagel.

“I would say in the application of the rules, we remain committed to the rules as they are. If we learn something, if we realise that a rule is producing bad outcomes, we will adjust.”

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