Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Time to Drop "Dropgate II"


            It’s been a very busy couple of weeks here, and the tournament season is definitely in full swing.  In between sending players off and then bringing them in I want to follow up on “Dropgate II” made a slightly larger issue thanks to Johnny Miller, notably not my favorite announcer.

            On the 14th hole in the final round of the Player’s Championship, Tiger Woods hooked his ball high and left into the lateral water hazard.  With the help and consultation of his fellow-competitor Casey Wittenberg, they determined the point they believed that the ball last crossed the margin of the hazard and Tiger dropped accordingly (and correctly).  And overhead shot from the blimp caused Johnny Miller and many on Twitter to question the location of the drop, thinking that the ball must have crossed the margin several yards further back.
 

            The PGA Tour released a statement quickly thereafter citing Decision 26-1/17 regarding the drop.  Tiger had used his best judgment to determine the point where the ball last crossed, including consulting with his fellow-competitor.  The Decision states that if a player uses his best judgment and afterward it is determined that the point is actually incorrect, the player does not incur a penalty for playing from a wrong place, otherwise a player would always be subject to that penalty when they use their best judgment and are afterward found to be incorrect (see entire text of Decision below).

            There are several important things to say about this Decision and proceeding under 26-1 in general.  Remember that ANY time you are proceeding under 26-1 and determining the point where the ball last crossed the margin of the hazard, unless an official or marshal was close enough to see the exact crossing point, you are always estimating the spot.  When proceeding under this Rule (specifically 26-1c for lateral water hazards), it is not an exact science.  Tiger did everything correctly.  He had a general idea of where it crossed.  He consulted with his fellow-competitor and his fellow-competitor’s caddie to see if there was agreement about the point and there was.  He dropped using his best judgment with all available knowledge.  The drop was correct, and even if the blimp showed he gained a few extra yards, Decision 26-1/17 tells us that he proceeded correctly.

            This situation is NOTHING like the original “Dropgate.”  Tiger was not in breach of a Rule and did not drop in a wrong place.  Even if it is argued that he did drop a few yards closer than the actual spot where it last crossed, he proceeded correctly.  He estimated the spot where it last crossed and dropped accordingly.  End of story.

            Under Decision 26-1/17, a player could even use his best judgment and drop in a place that could be considered a serious breach of playing from a wrong place.  The key to remember is whether the player has used all available information and used honest judgment as to where the ball has crossed the margin of the hazard.  If that is the case, then the ball is in play and the player has proceeded correctly. (To cover all the bases, if you drop and before the ball is played it is discovered that the point used was incorrect, you must correct the error under 20-6, but if the ball has been played there is no need to correct the mistake).

            Let’s use some common sense here.  If a player uses all the available information (and no, don’t tell me the blimp view is available knowledge to Tiger, if you do you’re an idiot) and determines a point that later turns out to be incorrect should he really be penalized?  Of course not.  How else should a player proceed?  What happens when you can’t see the point where it last crossed but you have knowledge that the ball is in the hazard?  Do you have to get it exactly right or suffer a two-stroke penalty?  Of course not.

            So let’s bite this “Dropgate II” in the bud right now before misinformation takes over.  Tiger did it right.  If it turns out the ball crossed a few yards further back, it’s not a penalty because he used all available information to determine the point and used his best judgment.  There was no ill-intent and there was no attempt to gain an advantage and he dropped correctly according to the Rule.  So Johnny, when it comes to the Rules, just keep quiet.

Decision 26-1/17

Q. In the circumstances described in Decision 26-1/16 [a player has dropped under 26-1c and it is then discovered that the point was not correct], what is the ruling if A, having dropped a ball in a wrong place, plays it before his error is discovered?

A. A must continue play with the ball played from a wrong place, without penalty.  Applying the penalty under Rule 26-1 for playing from a wrong palce (see Rule 20-7) is not appropriate.  Otherwise, a competitor would risk incurring a penalty every time he makes an honest judgment as to the point where his ball last crosses a water-hazard margin and that judgment subsequently proves incorrect.

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