The story behind Jordan Spieth’s drop, drop, drop, etc.
By Stephanie Wei under PGA Championship

As you may have heard by now, Jordan Spieth had quite an eventful time on the seventh hole (his 16th, started on 10) after pushing his drive right into a puddle on a gravel cart path in the second round of the PGA Championship. I’m going to do my best to explain this overly complicated situation.

After discussing his options with PGA rules official Brad Gregory and attempting at least four drops — which only took 10 minutes — Spieth took relief from casual water and placed the ball (which is the rule after you attempt to drop it twice and it rolls outside of a club length or closer to the hole, etc.). At that point, he was given the green light to hit his shot after making the “best drop of his life.

Here’s where the potential “controversy” arose.

Spieth changed his stance so that he wasn’t standing in the casual water because according to the super straightforward Rules of Golf, you have to take *complete* relief when taking a drop from casual water. However, Spieth’s left foot was supposedly in casual water when he hit the shot, and thus, he would’ve incurred a two-stroke penalty. However, his toe was actually only hovering over the water and not touching it.

The PGA of America also sent out a five-page email (not really) explaining the entire ruling and it wouldn’t have mattered if Spieth’s foot had been in the casual water.

Jordan selected a club and demonstrated a swing and direction that he would have used, if there were no casual water present (Decision 24-2b/1). This stroke and direction was toward the hole. After going thru the relief procedure, the ball was in play on the artificially surfaced path and clear from his stance and swing for the direction and type of shot he originally chose to play. Once the ball was dropped and in play, Jordan had the option to select another type of stroke or another type of club to actually play the shot and he chose to play a stroke to the right of a tree in an attempt to try to hook the ball toward the green.

In this case, Jordan elected to play in a different direction of play based on Decision 20-2c/0.8. Jordan was entitled to either play the ball as it lay, even if his stance was still in the casual water or, he could have elected to take relief again from the casual water under this different type of stroke that he then elected to play.

Spieth explained the reason behind the lengthy situation for what should’ve been a straightforward drop.

“I just tried to find out exactly all the options I had and ultimately taking relief from casual water gave me the best opportunity to still drop it on the cart path, play it on the cart path,” he said. “It took a while because of different drops. We weren’t sure where my stance would still be and it wasn’t full relief. Ultimately I still ended up playing with a toe in the water. Because the angle had changed from the angle of my stance looking at the pin, he said he was very happy with it, that it was relief and I was altering my stance to play a different shot, which is true, from where the other drop would have been, which is going right at it.

“It was really weird. It was as complicated as I’ve ever really had it. Took about as much time as I’ve ever taken on a free drop.”

More from Spieth describing the situation:

“I originally could have taken relief from the path,” he said. “My drop would have been to the left, and that would have caused me to have little to know shot. So I wanted all my options, one of my options was you can take relief from the causal water without taking relief from the path. Because he asked me, hey, if there were no casual water on the cart path, what would you do here? I said I would for sure play it. I would play it off the path. Anybody would. There is no other shot from left there except to try and punch — you can’t even punch back out to the fairway. You would have to punch up No. 10. I decided to take we relief from the casual water which I didn’t do correctly the first couple of drops. I ended up still standing in it.

“Finally, on the last one, it went into a location more straight back in line with the hole where I could then have a stance in line with the hole that would not be in casual water. I then altered my stance to play a different shot than what I would have played had it been on the original angle of my drops.

“Because of that, he said we were following the correct rules and we were taking relief. I was just altering the stance with a toe that was up. It wasn’t resting in it because it was on the cart path and it was dug down. I say cart path, it’s that gravel. So the waters dip down. So my toe wasn’t on the water, I don’t know if it matters or not, but it was certainly hovering over it. It was a different angle in flight at the right of the green that he said was appropriate. So I trust my rules official there.”

Here’s a video showing Spieth’s “adventure” on the 7th:

Spieth knocked the shot over the green and went on to make bogey. Following his three-under 67, the world no. 3 said he never considered that there was a problem with the ruling or the drop. “I never thought twice about it whatsoever,” said Spieth.

“I don’t think there’s any problem with it. If there happens to be then that’s not on me. I literally asked every question I could ask and I got every answer I could be to be content. That’s first and foremost what you are trying to do is obviously abide by the rules. If I had to go over any more, if he told me I did then I would have. He said it was just fine, so it was just fine.”

In other news, Spieth, who is three-under at the halfway mark, is in decent position heading into the weekend. Interesting enough, it’s his putting that he’s struggling with thus far at Baltusrol (greens are tough to read).

“I’m hitting the ball fantastic,” he said. “I just can’t get a putt to go in outside ten feet. And from ten to 20 feet, the amount of opportunities I’ve had that aren’t that difficult, up to my putting standards I would be 5, 6, 7 strokes better right now. It feels like it’s a bit of a struggle adapting line and speed control on the greens. Inside of ten, I made quite a few good birdie putts today to get me in contention.

“I’m striking the ball beautifully. Driver went a little astray, but overall I feel like I’m in a good position to make a run, I just need a couple good rounds.”

More details from the PGA of America Rules Committee for golf geeks on the Rules of Golf applied in this situation:

Decision 24-2b/1 Determining “Nearest Point of Relief”  

Q.The Note to the Definition of “Nearest Point of Relief” provides that the player should determine this point by using “the club with which he would have made his next stroke if the condition were not there to simulate the address position, direction of play and swing for such stroke.” May the player use any club, address position, direction of play or swing in determining the nearest point of relief?

A.No. In determining the nearest point of relief accurately it is recommended that the player use the club, address position, direction of play and swing (right or left-handed) that he would have used had the obstruction or condition not been there. For example, the player has interference from an immovable obstruction and, were it not for the obstruction, he would have used a right-handed stroke with a 4-iron to play the ball from its original position towards the green. To determine the nearest point of relief accurately, he should use a right-handed stroke with a 4-iron and the direction of play should be towards the green. See also Decisions 20-2c/0.7 and 20-2c/0.8.

Decision 20-2c/0.8 Player Takes Relief from an Area of Ground Under Repair; Whether Re-Drop Required if Condition Interferes for Stroke with Club Not Used to Determine “Nearest Point of Relief”  

Q.A player finds his ball in heavy rough approximately 230 yards from the green. He selects a wedge to play his next shot and finds that his stance touches a line defining an area of ground under repair. He determines the nearest point of relief and drops the ball within one club-length of this point. The ball rolls into a good lie from where he believes he can play a 3-wood for his next stroke. If the player used a wedge for his next stroke he would not have interference from the ground under repair, but adopting a normal stance with the 3-wood, he again touches the ground under repair with his foot. Must the player re-drop his ball under Rule 20-2c?

A.No. The player proceeded in accordance with Rule 25-1b by determining his nearest point of relief using the club with which he expected to play his next stroke and he would only be required to re-drop the ball under Rule 20-2c if interference still existed for a stroke with this club – see analogous Decision20-2c/0.7.   As it was expedient for the player to play his next stroke with another club, which resulted in interference from the condition, he would have the option of playing the ball as it lies or proceeding again under Rule 25-1b.