Friday, 20 July 2012

Zach Johnson Takes 5 Drops on Playoff Hole

Several readers have queried why Zach Johnson had to drop his ball five times after dunking his approach shot in the water at the John Deere Classic, on the first hole of a sudden death playoff with Troy Matteson last week. Many had watched the TV coverage and were questioning whether the TV commentator, David Feherty, and Steve Carman, the Tournament Director, had got it right. Check out the incident at this YouTube link and then I will do my best to clarify the issues, which I have to admit are confusing.

If you are receiving this blog by email click on this link to view the video.

(22nd July 2012 - Following comments received from knowledgeable sources I have edited my original post. 23rd July Further edits were made) Zach Johnson’s first drop was from the lateral water hazard and he chose option 26-1c(i) by dropping a ball outside the margin of the water hazard within two club-lengths of and not nearer the hole than the point where the original ball last crossed the margin, as designated by the red line. He purposely dropped his ball near to a sprinkler head, so that he could take further relief on the flatter area and might even see his ball roll to the closer mown area just off the rough. When he dropped his ball to the right of the sprinkler head it bounced towards him and in my opinion, to a position where there was no interference with his lie, stance or area of intended swing. However, Carman did allow him to take relief from the immovable obstruction, moving the tee marker to the other side of the sprinkler head, which he adjudged to be the nearest point of relief, not nearer the hole.

Now the fun begins. With guidance from Carman, Zach measured the extent of the one club-length relief from the nearest point of relief and placed his tee in the ground, marking the outside limit of the permitted dropping area. On his first drop his ball hit the tee, sending it into the air. This is the point where some experts think that Steve Carman was wrong, because he asked Zach to replace the tee and drop again. Their point is that the Definition of Equipment excludes any small object used to mark the position of a ball and therefore the drop was valid. This would certainly have been the case if the ball first hit the course within the permitted limit and then rolled against the tee marker. However, in my opinion, this was not the reason why he was required to drop again. Initially, I thought that the reason was that when the ball hit the tee, logically part of it was outside of the limit of the drop area making it an invalid drop. In other words it was not 'within' the one club-length. However, this has been challenged by others and another explanation has been offered that because the ball hit the tee, an obstruction, before it hit the course it had to be dropped again. It just shows that even acknowledged experts on the Rules do not always agree with rulings that are made! The same situation occurred with Johnson’s third and fourth drops. Note that because these drops were ruled invalid they do not count as drops and there is no limit to the number of times a ball must be re-dropped in these circumstances. The fifth drop landed inside the permitted area but then rolled outside causing some viewers to claim that the ball should have been re-dropped. However, under Rule 20-2c(vi) a ball may roll and come to rest up to two club-lengths from where it first struck a part of the course before a re-drop is required. Steve Carman then took a good look to check that the ball had not come to rest nearer to the hole and declared it to be in play. 

Zach Johnson went on to make a double bogey on this first playoff hole. Surprisingly, so did Troy Matteson who also had to take relief from the water hazard. So, they had to play the 18th again and this time Zach played a spectacular shot from a fairway bunker to about one foot from the hole and won the tournament with a birdie to Matteson’s par.

Good golfing,

The above content is strictly copyright to Barry Rhodes © 2012 and may not be copied without permission.

Click here to discover the easiest way to understand and absorb the Rules of Golf.


dick kusleika said...

"The fact that he appeared to place the tee just inside the club-length is not relevant, the tee now marked the outside limit of the measured drop area."

This is the part I don't understand. It should be a matter of fact whether the drop was within one club length, not a matter of where he put his tee. If he had placed a tee halfway down the club shaft, clearly shorter than the drop area to which he is entitled, and dropped outside that tee (but still inside one club length), would it be a valid drop? What if he hit the tee in that (admittedly unlikely) scenario?

Barry Rhodes said...


I understand the point that you are making, but what is the point of marking the outside limit if we do not then take any notice of it? For all we know Zach may have positioned the other end of his club the same distance away from the NPR. I think that it is reasonable that once a player has 'measured' the extent of the permitted area, the ball must then be dropped within that point.


Colin said...

This whole charade demonstrates that Rule 20 should be changed so that dropping the ball is replaced by placing the ball. It's quicker and fairer, particularly in the wet bunkers at the Open this weekend.

Barry Rhodes said...


I respect your opinion, but it is not one that I could support.


Anonymous said...

There seems to be no rule that requires a re-drop after the dropped ball hits any other obstruction besides the marking tee, movable or immovable. Also no decisions. It is ok to drop on a paved road when taking relief from something else. See also definition of course, nothing there either about a marking tee not being part of the course.

Barry Rhodes said...


I agree. There has been a great deal of conflicting comment concerning these drops and I have to admit that I am still uncertain as to why Steve Carman ruled as he did. As you say, a ball when dropped must first strike a part of the course where the applicable Rule requires it to be dropped; but does this mean that if it hit the tee before the course then it is invalid? No-one seems certain. It is a question that may have to be resolved by the Ruling Bodies.


Lawrie said...

Hi Barry.

I think the re-drops are as you say because the ball when dropped did not first strike the part of the course required under the rules as per Rule 20-2b. Under this rule the player must then proceed correctly under Rule 20-6, which outlines the procedure to be followed for a ball incorrectly dropped under Rule 20-2b.

The fact that the ball has struck the tee before the course means, in my opinion, that the drop has not been taken correctly. There is no restriction on the number of times a player may drop in these circumstances.

Barry Rhodes said...


There is still no 'official' clarification on this issue.