Is Branden Grace's free drop from sand the most fortuitous ruling ever?

Branden Grace gets a free drop from a plugged lie in the face of the bunker at Wentworth's 13th on day one of BMW PGA. 

Andy Roberts's picture
Thu, 25 May 2017

There was nothing unlucky about the 13th for Branden Grace during the first round of the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth today as the South African received the most fortuitous of free drops from a plugged lie in the bunker. 


Grace attempted to hook his second shot from the intermediate rough around the trees into the par-4 13th but he let the ball leak right and it plugged straight into the face of the bunker some 40 yards short of the green. 

Hands on hips, Grace stepped in to play the shot and wriggled his feet around deeply to get his stance. While doing so, he realised he was now standing on some netting in one of the many newly-designed bunkers and could not get any grip with his stance.


Shortly afterwards, Sky Sports on-course commentator Wayne Riley went to speak to European Tour chief rules official Andy McPhee to get an explanation as to why Grace received a free drop. 

"The netting he was standing on is an artificial substance, so unless it's on a local rule as an integral part of the course then anything that is artificial you actually gain relief from," said McPhee.


"If the bunker facing is a little thin and you are stood on something, then providing the stroke you are showing to the committee is reasonable then the player would be entitled to some relief.

"Going forward this week, obviously all the bunkers are new here. We weren't expecting any lining issues. If this is going to be a recurring theme then we might look at putting that on the local rules as an integral part of the course. But it's not there this year. 

"So if you are stood on any kind of an obstruction, like a sprinkler head for example, this is exactly the same status as that. Provided the stroke is reasonable, and the ball is not unplayable by someone else, then relief will be given."

Golf Instruction Tips #11: How to hit a plugged... by GolfMagic

But what about Grace's aggressive stance to get to the netting?

"If there was any netting there, it's probably well buried," said McPhee.

"When you go up the face of the bunker, sometimes the sand wears away or drifts away a little thin.

"We've had no other rulings like this in previous years here, but obviously when every bunker has been re-constructed.

"I'll need to go away and talk to Kenny (Mackay; Wentworth head greenkeeper) tonight to see if there is a liner under every bunker or if there is just an odd remnant that has been left."

After the round, Grace, who signed for a round of 4-under 68 to lie two shots off the pace, said of the incident: "I got a plugged lie. My feet were touching the material so I couldn't get any grip. I asked for a rules official and he said I was entitled to a free drop."

Unfortunately Grace failed to take full advatange of the ruling and went on to make a bogey, but in all likelihood the free drop saved himself at least a shot.

But Paul McGinley in the Sky Sports studio could not understand the free drop at all - and neither could many others in the commentary box or on social media. 

"It's nothing against Branden but he dug his feet in deep enough and got to the base of the sand in order to get through to the netting," said McGinley, "but I think he's wrong and it makes a complication of the rules."

"If the ball was sitting on the base of the netting, ok I understand then it's a free drop, but the ball was plugged and playable. It shows you if you have a plugged lie next time, just keep digging those feet in and you'll get a drop. It makes a mockery of the rules.

"He's plugged in the face, his left foot is getting caught in the bunker. He's in a hazard at the end of the day, so as far as I'm concerned it's tough luck."

Sweden's Johan Carlsson currently leads the BMW PGA Championship following an opening 6-under 66.

Italy's Francesco Molinari lies a shot further back on 5-under alongside Scotland's Scott Jamieson and Thailand's Kiradech Aphibarnrat, while tournament-favourite Henrik Stenson sits 4-under with the likes of Grace, England's Ross Fisher, Belgium's Thomas Pieters and Sweden's Alex Noren.