At the 2013 Solheim Cup tournament, a controversy ensued when two rules officials allowed for an incorrect drop. What happened? In the first afternoon match of the opening day, Carlotta Ciganda hit a drive into the lateral water hazard to the right of the 15th fairway. If you recall, if a player hits the ball into a lateral water hazard (marked by red stakes), she has five options:
1) Play it as it lies in the hazard with no penalty.
2) Go back to where she last hit the ball, drop a ball at that spot and add a penalty stroke.
3) Drop the ball on an imaginary line, keeping the point where the ball last crossed the hazard between the player and the hole. Add a penalty stroke.
4) Drop the ball within two club-lengths (no closer to the hole) of the point where the ball last crossed the hazard line. You get one penalty stroke.
5) Measure the distance from the point where the ball last crossed the hazard line to the hole, and then go to the other side of the hazard and go to a point that is of equal distance to the hole. From that point, she can drop the ball within two club-lengths (no closer to the hole) of that point. Add one stroke penalty.
Instead the rules officials combined option 3 and 5. Ciganda went to the other side of the hazard and (instead of dropping within two club-lengths) she was allowed to drop the ball on an imaginary line, keeping that point between the player and the hole. Of course she needed to add a penalty stroke.
So What’s the Big Deal?
The deal is that Ciganda was able to drop the ball in a spot of her choosing on the imaginary line, instead of within two club-lengths of the hazard. She dropped the ball on admittedly not a great place — hard dirt — but it was about 40 yards further away and perhaps it allowed her to take a full swing with a favorite club. Ciganda did exactly what she should have done. She took advantage of the options (however incorrect) the rules officials gave her. She dropped the ball, hit it to the fringe and made the putt to halve the hole.
The big deal is that at a “major” international event, two rules officials made the wrong ruling in the face of players questioning the validity of the rule. Once the ruling is made and play continues, there is no further debate that makes a difference. Later that night, and in the press conference the following morning, the LPGA and the rules official acknowledged that the drop that Ciganda was allowed to take was, in fact, an improper drop. Had she taken this drop on her own (or if you took this drop in a match on your home course) — and has her opponents called her on it prior to teeing off the next hole — she would have lost that hole in match play.
It just goes to show you that golf rules can be complicated and even the best players and the best rules officials can get them wrong. Just like an umpire in baseball or a referee in football, sometimes calls are blown and both sides just have to live with them.
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