The Most Often Broken Rule in Golf: How to Properly Drop a Ball (Rule 20-2a)

It’s really simple, yet often done incorrectly.

Rule 20-2a states that “A ball to be dropped under the Rules must be dropped by the player himself. He must stand erect, hold the ball at shoulder height and arm’s length and drop it. If a ball is dropped by any other person or in any other manner and the error is not corrected as provided in Rule 20-6, the player incurs a penalty of one stroke.”

First of all, the player himself must drop it. Neither his caddie, nor his partner or his partner’s caddie or anyone else can drop it. If anyone other than the player himself drops the ball, it is a one stroke penalty and the ball is in play.

Secondly, three conditions must be met by the person dropping the ball in order for a drop to conform with the Rules:

  1. He must stand erect - No squatting down or bending over at the waist.
  2. The ball must be held at shoulder height - Not at your knees so it doesn’t plug in the bunker or above your head so that it bounces and rolls more than two club lengths.
  3. The ball must be held at arm’s length - No more over the shoulder; that started in 1908 and disappeared from the Rules in 1984.

You may face any direction you wish and hold the ball in front or to the side. As long as the three conditions above are met.

As mentioned earlier, if the ball is dropped by any other person or in any other manner, you still have a chance to correct your error. This is one of the few times in the Rules of Golf that give you a “do over” without incurring a penalty and is covered by Rule 20-6.

Rule 20-6 states that “A ball incorrectly substituted, dropped or placed in a wrong place or otherwise not in accordance with the Rules but not played may be lifted, without penalty, and the player must then proceed correctly. This Rule is sometimes referred to as the “Eraser Rule.”

Please note two things:

  1. The ball when dropped, even though incorrectly, is in play and you can still incur a penalty. Suppose, after dropping incorrectly, you address the ball and your ball moves; you incur a penalty stroke and you must replace your ball. Under the “Eraser Rule” you are allowed to lift the ball and proceed correctly but the one stroke penalty for your ball moving after address stays with you. The penalty for dropping incorrectly is erased.
  2. You have the opportunity to lift the incorrectly dropped ball as long as you have not made a stroke at it. Once you make a stroke at it, the statute of limitations runs out and you’re stuck with the penalty!

Remember, dropping the ball is simple if you just follow the Rules of Golf. Knowing the Rules can help you save strokes and enjoy the game of golf.

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