News & Opinion

Teen inventor helps golfers measure up

One in a weekly series of stories about golf gear to run each Wednesday.

By Gary Van Sickle

The most important piece of equipment in your bag next year might not be a golf club. It could be a ruler.

This is not a joke. Rules changes proposed by the U.S. Golf Association to take effect in 2019 mean that you’ll be taking relief differently in 2019 – at least, if you play by the Rules of Golf.

One of those alterations requires golfers to be more precise in drop situations. Instead of taking relief within one club length, no nearer the hole, the new rule specifies dropping within 20 inches, no nearer the hole.

That’s 20 inches, not 21 or 24 or 30. So how can you be sure that you or your opponent takes a legal drop?

Enter the DropStick, an ingenious rod that works as an alignment aid on the practice range but collapses Transformer-like to form a baseball diamond-shaped area that outlines a proper 20 inch-zone. If your ball ends up within the confines of the DropStick, you’ve made a legal drop (even if, by the way, it bounces off your shoe or your club en route; these are kinder, gentler and more sensible days at the USGA). If you’re outside the DropStick zone, drop again.

Peyton Robertson, 16, shows off his DropStick invention.

Peyton Robertson, 16, shows off his DropStick invention.

“You have the exact measurement with DropStick,” said Carey Webb, the grandfather of the product’s inventor. “It simplifies things and makes taking a drop easier and consistent.”

Grandfather of the inventor? That is correct. DropStick came from the mind of Peyton Robertson, a 16-year-old avid junior golfer. He is a prodigy, what old-timers used to call a whiz kid. He lives in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., is a sophomore taking classes at Stanford University Online High School and already holds 10 patents and has more pending on several products. He has played in more than 150 junior tournaments. His highlight so far was pairing with Clint Eastwood and Jimmy Walker in the Pebble Beach Pro-Am Celebrity Challenge, in which they won $200,000 for science and math charities, with $100,000 of it going to a charity organization founded by Robertson that supports STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) education.

That’s right, he’s 16, he’s got patents, he’s made Clint Eastwood’s day and he’s already created his own charity foundation. 

Wait, there’s more. He is named on Forbes magazine’s 30 Under 30 list; he had a paper published in the Journal of Tropical Diseases and Public Health; he is the youngest winner of the National STEM Education Award and the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge. At 13, Robertson went to the 2014 White House Science Fair and met then-President Barack Obama, who said he’d “like to buy stock” in Robertson and said somebody at NASA should “give him a job.”

When deployed, DropStick shows the proper spot for a legal drop under a proposed change in the Rules of Golf.

When deployed, DropStick shows the proper spot for a legal drop under a proposed change in the Rules of Golf.

So far, the DropStick is Robertson’s simplest creation. His first notable invention was a retractable set of training wheels for his sister’s bicycle. A simple twist of the handlebar grip or a push of a retraction button and the training wheels can be quickly raised or lowered. “Learn to steer with the wheels down,” Robertson said, “or learn to balance with the wheels up.”

It’s a smart idea.

“I’ve had a number of patents on that,” Robertson said. “There have been a lot of adjustments and design tweaks, and every time you do that, you have to file for a new patent. So, it hasn’t been licensed yet.”

His next big deal was an expandable sandbag (without sand!) to help hold back floodwaters. The idea started as a science class project. The bag is actually a polymer that expands when it comes into contact with seawater. “So it’s super easy to carry, and when the water comes, it expands to take on the weight of the water,” he said. “Afterward, the polymer returns to its original weight once the water evaporates. It’s similar to instant snow, if you’ve ever seen that. It’s biogradable, too.”

He garnered some TV appearances out of that project, which is the one that got him to the White House Science Fair, and said a few companies are pursuing his idea.

Now, he’s trying to market his new golf product, which he displayed at the PGA Merchandise Show last month in Orlando, Fla.

When Robertson heard from a golf official about the rules change regarding drops that calls for the 20-inch-by-20-inch relief area, he immediately thought, People already have alignment sticks in their bags, so why not use those? 

His DropStick is 40 inches long. Its body snaps open in the middle, revealing a cord underneath, then snaps in place at a right angle. The cord stretches from the two ends to form a quarter-circle, or a sector, that creates a 20-inch drop area, as it morphs from alignment aid to relief-measurement aid.

Robertson’s DropStick generated interest among rules officials at the PGA Merchandise Show. 

“A lot of officials were saying, ‘This would be a great thing for us to have,’ ” Robertson said. “When the rules change next year, they’re going to need this. If there’s a dispute on a drop, this resolves it without question.”

The DropStick will be available from for $19.99. Robertson’s slogan: Drop it. Stick it. Meaning, after you take correct relief, hit the next shot close. 

“Peyton is a very smart young man,” his grandfather said. “He’s always thinking ahead and outside the box. It’ll be interesting to see what he does next.”

Now, Robertson said, he’s working on a model that can better predict the paths of hurricanes, a useful tool for his fellow south Florida residents. How about a way to alter the paths of those hurricanes, his interviewer suggested, or maybe redirect them toward our enemies?

“Toward our enemies? That would raise some ethical concerns,” he answered quickly. Then he started to laugh.

Smart young man. 

Gary Van Sickle has covered golf since 1980 for Sports Illustrated and, Golf World and The Milwaukee Journal. Email:; Twitter: @GaryVanSickle