It was always going to happen.

After decades of dropping the ball from shoulder height, when the 2019 Rules of Golf brought a change it was a matter of time before someone tripped up.

Some players, such as Henrik Stenson at the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship, were lucky. They realised their mistake.

But Rickie Fowler had no such luck on the opening hole of his second round of the WGC-Mexico Championship. So what went wrong?

Rickie Fowler penalty: Why was he docked a shot?

Rule 14.3b says you have to drop a ball in the “right way”. It states the ball “must be dropped straight down from knee height without touching player or equipment.”

The Rules of Golf actually shows a diagram that explicitly rules out the previous shoulder high-drop or anything else that’s not knee high.

Fowler got himself into trouble after shanking his second shot out of bounds at the first hole on the Chapultepec course.

He took a drop and made it from shoulder-height. Now that incorrect drop did not immediately mean he would be penalised.

Rule 14.5a allows a player to lift their ball without penalty and correct a mistake before playing a shot if the ball was dropped “in a wrong way”.

That is only allowed, though, before a ball is played.

So if Fowler had realised his incorrect drop, he would have been able to lift his ball and correct his mistake – by re-dropping.

Related: Fowler’s unlucky two-shot penalty at the Phoenix Open

Once he had played the shot, he was in breach of the rule. After addressing the situation with a rules official, he was assessed a one shot penalty.

This is because Fowler made his drop from a relief area.

Rule 14.3b (3) reveals that “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.”

If Fowler had played from outside the relief area, he’d have been hit with the general penalty, or a two-stroke sanction.

So old habits, it seems, die hard. But it’s unlikely the American is going to be the only player to come a cropper with the drop rule before the new rules become second nature.

Steve Carroll

A journalist for 23 years, Steve has been immersed in club golf for almost as long. A former captain and committee member, he has passed the Level 3 Rules of Golf exam with distinction having attended the national Tournament Administrators and Referee's Seminar. He has officiated at a host of high-profile tournaments, including Open Regional Qualifying and the PGA Fourball Championship. A member of NCG's Top 100s panel, Steve has a particular love of links golf and is frantically trying to restore his single-figure handicap.

Handicap: 10.9

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