The Rules of Golf are complicated and can trip up even the most well-versed in the rule book. But it is always a bit perplexing when top-level pros and their caddies make mistakes that otherwise seem pretty easy to get right. Especially as it pertains to taking a drop.
The latest examples involved Rory McIlroy and Joaquin Niemann.
McIlroy made a mistake during the first round at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, when he was playing at Spyglass Hill. His tee shot on the par-5 7th came to rest in deep grass under a pine tree. With no ability to play the shot, McIlroy took an unplayable lie and chose “back-on-the-line” relief—allowing him to go as far back as he wanted on that line to take a drop with a one-shot penalty.
But McIlroy took his drop to the right of the line. That used to be permitted—one club length—but was changed at the beginning of 2023. The rule, 14.3, stipulates you must drop on the line. It ended up costing him two more penalty strokes.
“I wasn’t aware that that rule changed again in 2023, so I took a drop thinking of the 2019 rules when everything (the Rules of Golf underwent a massive overhaul) was sort of changed, not knowing that the rule was changed again in 2023,” McIlroy said. “So I got a two-stroke penalty there.”
In McIlroy’s defense, the rule was changed twice in four years. If you don’t know—well you don’t know.
During the second round on Saturday, Niemann needed a relief from a cart path at the 13th hole. He took two club lengths of relief instead of one, a violation brought to the attention of rules officials later. After speaking with Niemann on Sunday morning and getting his version, it was determined that he dropped outside of the one-club maximum. The penalty was two shots under Rule 14.7a.
Any pro should understand that rule. A good guide is that when a drop is needed with no penalty—in Niemann’s case—you get one club length. Typically you get two club lengths when strokes are being assessed, such as taking a drop from a penalty area.