Rules Guy: When it is legal to place the ball instead of dropping it?

hand placing golf ball

What do the rules say about when it's okay to place a ball instead of dropping it?

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The Rules of Golf are tricky! Thankfully, we’ve got the guru. Our Rules Guy knows the book front to back. Got a question? He’s got all the answers.

When you can take relief from near the putting surface, do you place the ball or drop from knee height? More generally, on what occasions do you place rather than drop? —Jesse Trapp, via email

Jesse, remember the old advice you learned in school in case of fire, “stop, drop and roll”? This really has nothing to do with that — it just popped into our head.

Anyway, other than Preferred Lies (Model Local Rule E-3), you would place a ball when taking free relief for interference by an abnormal course condition when the ball was originally on the putting green — even if the nearest point of complete relief is off the putting green (see Rule 16.1d).

You would also end up placing, per Rule 14.3d, if two drops in the correct relief area in the general area roll outside that relief area. Drop, drop and place!

For more dropped-ball guidance from our guru, read on …

On a par 3, I hit my tee shot behind an immovable structure and was granted a free drop. I made my drop, then took a practice swing — and inadvertently skulled the ball into a penalty area (specifically, a pond). With a new ball, I subsequently got up and down for par … or a 5? Should I have been penalized? Does the free drop make any difference in this situation? —Russell Nathe, via email

golfer in bunker
Rules Guy: If you get a bad lie in a bunker, can you take an unplayable and rake the area before dropping?
By: Rules Guy

In point of fact, Russell, you made a rather quirky 4. Under Rule 9.4, you get a 1-stroke penalty for accidentally causing the ball to move and must replace it.

That this happened after a free drop is immaterial, and indeed you were not required to fish your ball from the penalty area if it couldn’t be quickly and easily retrieved. And Rules Guy is far too polite to tweak that old golf joke about standing too close to the ball … after you hit it vis-a-vis your pre-shot routine … but consider taking a half-step back, yes?

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