Jordan Spieth had an out-of-sorts first round of 2019 at the Sony Open in Hawaii, and a rules incident was emblematic of his year-dropper at Waialae Country Club.
Spieth, who opened over par in his first round since getting married in November, found himself in a situation during the round where he needed to take relief from a sprinkler head. As he was preparing to drop, Spieth held the ball and took his arm to shoulder height, preparing to drop. It was at that point that the PGA Tour's Slugger White stepped in, saying, "Whoa!"
Fantastic. Spieth goes for his first drop of the year, from a sprinkler head, holds the ball out shoulder height and Slugger White jumps in with a “Whoa, whoa, whoa!” Eventually got it right. pic.twitter.com/WKGwJTWAKR
— Doug Ferguson (@dougferguson405) January 10, 2019
Spieth was about to commit a penalty under the new Rules of Golf. Under the new golf rules, players have to take relief by dropping from knee height, not shoulder height, as has been the rules for decades. If a player drops from shoulder height, it's considered an illegal drop and the player must again drop from knee height to correct the mistake. Had Spieth dropped the ball from shoulder height and gone on to play the ball, he would have incurred that one-stroke penalty.
Why drop from knee height?
The change was made to prevent golfers from having to drop multiple times to take relief. By dropping from a lower height, the ball arrives at the ground with less speed, meaning it's less likely to bounce and roll out of the determined relief area for the ball. With a drop from knee height, it's more likely a golfer will drop just once.
The dozens of changes for the new golf rules in 2019 were designed to make the game easier and quicker for the average player. However, for competitive pros, following the rules are absolutely essential to avoid needless penalties or disqualification. The pros, then, are facing a learning curve as they take on rules situations that were cut and dry.
Fortunately, White was able to prevent Spieth from taking an illegal drop and a needless penalty stroke.
Unfortunately, Spieth did not start his year in style, falling nearly 10 strokes behind the Day 1 lead.