Why Was Xander Schauffele Allowed A Free Drop At The Phoenix Open?

During his third round, the American was granted a free drop despite his ball being up against a tree. Here, we explain why

Schauffele walks on while holding his golf ball in his hand
(Image credit: Getty Images)

The rules of golf are a funny thing and, in 2023, they received an update. However, during the third round of the Waste Management Phoenix Open, Xander Schauffele used the rules to his advantage when his golf ball came to rest just mere inches away from a tree.

Playing the par 5 13th, the American pushed his drive right, with the ball finishing near a tree root. Straight away, many thought his options were to chip backwards but, in true golf professional style, the seven-time PGA Tour winner was looking for free relief. The reason? Well, that was down to Schauffele standing in an animal hole on the upcoming shot.

Schauffele hits a golf shot

(Image credit: Twitter: @Top100Rick)

Originally, the American pleaded his case to one rules official, who denied Schauffele but, after asking for a second official, he was granted the free drop from the burrow near the ball.

“Xander Schauffele had the ball right back up against that palo verde tree, and it was against a root, but he was standing in a burrowing animal hole, so did a whole lot of lobbying with a first rules official and was denied,” stated Trevor Immelman on the broadcast. “Called in a second opinion and not only got relief, and a swing and a shot.” 

So, which specific rule was the 29-year-old arguing? Well, animal holes are covered under Rule 16.1a, which explains that: “Interference exists when any one of these is true: The player’s ball touches or is in or on an abnormal course condition; an abnormal course condition physically interferes with the player’s area of intended stance or area of intended swing.”

After looking at a par at best, Schauffele had manufactured his way into a position with a clear shot to the green from just 200 yards. Speaking with his caddie, he managed to get the ball near the green and, as he rolled in a five footer, the birdie was secured.

On the broadcast, it was clear that Immelman and Frank Nobilo knew Schauffele had gotten away with one, as Nobilo stated: “That’s a massive break… Take anything after that. Second shot being right behind that tree could be looking at five, six.” Immelman, on the other hand, simply said: “My goodness, that is downright robbery."

Matt Cradock
Staff Writer

Matt joined Golf Monthly in February 2021 covering weekend news, before also transitioning to equipment and testing. After freelancing for Golf Monthly and The PGA for 18 months, he was offered a full-time position at the company in October 2022 and continues to cover weekend news and social media, as well as help look after Golf Monthly’s many buyers’ guides and equipment reviews.

Taking up the game when he was just seven years of age, Matt made it into his county squad just a year later and continues to play the game at a high standard, with a handicap of around 2-4. To date, his best round came in 2016, where he shot a six-under-par 66 having been seven-under through nine holes. He currently plays at Witney Lakes in Oxfordshire and his favourite player is Rory McIlroy, despite nearly being struck by his second shot at the 17th during the 2015 BMW PGA Championship.

Matt’s current What’s In The Bag?

Driver: Honma TW747, 8.75°

Fairway Wood: TaylorMade Rocketballz Stage 2, 15°, 19°

Hybrid: Adams Super Hybrid, 22°

Irons: Mizuno MP54, 5-PW

Wedges: Cleveland 588 RTX 2.0 Tour Satin, 50°, 56°, 60°

Putter: Cleveland TFI 2135 Satin Cero

Ball: Titleist Pro V1x