Sunday, May 25, 2008

Ask Linda #64-wind blows ball on green

Linda, I was playing in a better ball tournament on a very windy day. I addressed my ball on the putting green, and then backed off (something blew into my eye). Before I got back to my ball, the wind blew it about a foot further from the hole. There was some animated discussion about what I should do. My group finally agreed that I should putt it from the spot the wind blew it to. Was this the right thing to do?
Lou Lou

Dear Lou Lou,
Before I answer your question, I am going to give you an important piece of golf advice. It is clear to me, from your description of the incident, that you were unsure how to proceed, and that there was disagreement among your group as to the proper procedure. The rules provide a solution when you don’t know what to do. Rule 3-3 (Doubt as to Procedure) allows you to play a second ball and then straighten the mess out with the Committee prior to signing your scorecard. Please remember to do that the next time you find yourself in a confusing predicament.

Now let’s look at your question. According to the rules, wind is not an outside agency. What that means is that if the wind blows your ball, you do not put it back; you must hit it from its new position. So it would appear, at first glance, that you did the right thing. But appearances can be deceiving, and in your case you did not proceed correctly. Here’s why.

Once you address the ball, you are responsible for what happens to it. You cannot “un-address” the ball. So even though it was moved by a gust of wind, you are deemed responsible for moving that ball, since it had already been addressed. You should have replaced the ball and added a one-stroke penalty to your score (Rule 18-2b). Since you did not replace it, and you did not gain a significant advantage (the ball was blown further from the hole), you would be penalized two strokes for playing from a wrong place.

Since this was a better ball tournament, if your partner had the better score on that hole, then your mistake has no bearing on your team score and you can breathe a sigh of relief. However, if it was your score that counted for that hole, then your team would be disqualified; since your procedure was incorrect and you did not replace the ball and add a penalty stroke to your score (or add a two-stroke penalty for playing from the wrong place), you signed an incorrect scorecard. Your total score was lower than what you actually shot, which is an automatic disqualification under Rule 6-6d.

The rules understand that you will not always know what to do. Don’t be embarrassed to admit your ignorance, Lou. With 34 rules and over 1200 rulings about them in the Decisions book, who could possibly be expected to always know the right course of action? Tell the other guys that you are going to play two balls, tell them which ball you would like to count if the rules permit, and then report all the facts to the Committee before you sign your scorecard. That will keep you out of trouble and in the competition.


Copyright © 2008 Linda Miller. All rights reserved.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Ask Linda #63-relief from rough to fairway

Dear Linda,
My ball was in the rough on the right-hand side of the fairway in an area marked as ground under repair. My nearest point of relief was on the fairway (I am right-handed). My friends wouldn’t let me drop on the fairway. They insisted that if your ball is in the rough you have to drop in the rough. What was I supposed to do?

Dear Lulu,
There is no distinction in the rules between fairway and rough. If your ball is in the rough in ground under repair (GUR), and the nearest point of relief is on the fairway, then that is where you are entitled (required, actually) to take your free drop (Decision 24-2b/8).

Conversely, you may someday find your ball in GUR on the fairway, and realize (to your dismay) that your nearest point of relief will be in the rough.

Be aware that you are not required to take relief from GUR (unless the golf course has a local rule to the contrary). Sometimes your lie and your line of play will be better if you just stay put and hit your ball where it lies.

There aren’t a whole lot of rules that allow you to improve your situation. This is one of them. Enjoy your rare good fortune and drop that ball on the fairway.


Copyright © 2008 Linda Miller. All rights reserved.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Ask Linda #62-trouble in water hazard

Linda, I had trouble in two water hazards. In one, my ball carried the water but plugged in the bank on the other side; it was not past the red line on the ground, so my ball was still in the hazard. In the other, I was in the hazard but on dry land and could play my ball, except there was a concrete base with a small electrical box on top that interfered with my swing. Please tell me the proper procedure in both cases.
Lou Lou

Dear Lou Lou,

I’m afraid I have nothing but bad news for you. Neither of the rules that provide free relief for an embedded ball (Rule 25-2) or from an immovable obstruction (Rule 24-2) is applicable when your ball is in a water hazard. You must either play the ball as it lies, or assess yourself a one-stroke penalty and proceed under any of the relief options for a ball in a water hazard (Rule 26-1). For a review of those options, please see “Rules #4-Relief Options, Part III: Water Hazards,” which I posted in April.


Copyright © 2008 Linda Miller. All rights reserved.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Ask Linda #61-Practice putting during round

Hey, Linda—
I played in a stroke play tournament last week. After my group finished the second hole, I noticed no players coming up behind us and also that the players in front of us had just hit their tee shots. I stayed on the green and practiced putting. One of the players in my group told me that I couldn’t do that, it is only permitted in match play. Was she right?

Dear Lulu,
Between the play of two holes you are permitted to practice putting or chipping on or near (1) the putting green of the hole you last played, (2) the practice putting green (assuming it is nearby), and (3) the teeing ground of the next hole. You are NOT permitted to take any practice strokes in a hazard, nor may you practice if it will delay anyone’s play. The rule is the same in both match play and stroke play (Rule 7-2).

You followed the rule to the letter by checking first to see if any player behind you was waiting to hit to the green, and also noticing that your group would have a bit of a wait before teeing off on the next hole.

HOWEVER (sorry, but there always seems to be a “however” built into the rules), the Committee in charge of the competition has the right to prohibit practicing putting on the green of the hole last played (most professional golf tournaments impose this restriction). When you receive your rules sheet for the tournament, please read it carefully to see if the Committee included a rule to prohibit practice putting.

I would suggest that every player carry a rule book in his golf bag. Some rules (like this one) are easy to find, and discovering that you are permitted to practice as you wanted to (but probably stopped doing for fear you would be penalized) might have made your round more pleasurable and even improved your score in the tournament. Knowledge of the rules can be a useful and powerful tool in golf.


Copyright © 2008 Linda Miller. All rights reserved.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Ask Linda #60-Match play claim

Linda-- Five days after a Match Play tournament, Player A called to register a Claim. Player A said she had thought about the tournament all weekend. The match was all square after 17 holes. On the 18th hole, Player A stated that Player B had a long putt for a 5 but it did not go in and Player A had a good chip and a short putt for a 6. Player A then conceded the Match to Player B, mistakenly thinking B had that short putt for a 5 on the hole. During the weekend Player A remembered Player B would have had a 6 on that hole and not a 5. This would have put the Match into extra holes. Player A said she was given Wrong Information on that hole. What should the Committee have done?

Dear Lulu,
If Player B made an honest mistake in agreeing that she had a putt left for a 5 on the hole, then the Committee should let the results of the match stand, with Player B as the winner. Unless the Committee is convinced that Player B intentionally misinformed Player A about her stroke total, the Committee is not permitted to consider a claim after the results of the match have been officially announced (Rule 2-5).

If Player B knew she had already taken 5 shots and had a short putt left for a 6 and deliberately did not correct Player A’s misunderstanding of her stroke count, then the Committee should disqualify Player B for a serious breach of etiquette (Rule 33-7; Decision 9-2/12). Such withholding of information is contrary to the spirit of the game. Player A would be declared the winner.

Now for some advice:
If Player A was unsure of Player B’s stroke count, she was entitled to ask and B was required to answer. Chances are that if the players took the time to review the score, they would have realized the match was still all square (assuming both players nailed their short putts). If the players disagreed on B’s count, the time for A to file the claim was right then and there. A would have to tell B before teeing off on the next hole (or before leaving the putting green, since in this case it was the last hole of the match) that she was making a claim because she believed B’s stroke count was incorrect and that she wanted the Committee to rule on the matter.

Lulu, it is vitally important during match play to keep track of both your score and your opponent’s. Not only will it help you avoid the heartache of losing a match you should have had a chance to win, but knowing the stroke count can affect your decision whether to try a risky shot or a more conservative one.


Copyright © 2008 Linda Miller. All rights reserved.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Ask Linda #59-Bunker rules

Hi Linda,
The Cink bunker rule really gives you pause in terms of doing almost anything on the course!

A question came up with a couple of members of our club concerning entering and re-entering bunkers. Is it within the rules to enter a bunker (with or without a club), take your stance (digging in), and then decide to change clubs? Is it allowable to leave the bunker and re-enter with another club? Would that be considered testing the conditions? Also, is it allowable to enter another part of a bunker, take your stance, and then simulate a swing before taking your stance where the ball lies? Would this be considered testing the condition of the bunker?

Dear Lulu,
I am particularly pleased that you asked these questions, since there is a new decision this year (13-4/0.5) regarding these exact issues that should be of interest to all golfers. Some of the procedures you asked about were prohibited in the past, but are now permissible in 2008.

Here are your answers:
1. You are permitted to enter a bunker with or without a club, dig in to take your stance, and then decide to change clubs. You are allowed to exit the bunker to select another club and then re-enter. However, when you return with the new club, if you should decide to take a different stance, then you may not fill in the footprints from your first stance. Filling in those footprints would constitute testing the condition of the hazard.

2. You are allowed to enter another part of the bunker that may be a good distance away from your ball, dig in, simulate a swing (or take a practice swing with a club – just don’t touch the sand with the club), leave the bunker, get a club, and then proceed to your ball. However, you may not rake those footprints prior to hitting your ball, so please don’t forget to rake ALL your footprints after your ball is out of the hazard. (If one of your playing partners offers to rake, and his ball is not in the hazard, that would be permissible.)

I discussed this last ruling with a rules official at the USGA a couple of days ago. He explained that the reason you are now permitted to take a stance in the hazard away from where your ball lies is that it was decided that you are not gaining any additional information about the hazard by doing so.

Here are some additional activities that are permissible in a hazard:
• placing a rake or a selection of clubs in the hazard (you can take your whole bag in with you, if you wish);
• leaning on a rake in a hazard (but you may NOT lean on your club);
• marking your ball with a tee if you are proceeding under a rule that requires you to lift your ball (e.g., lifting a ball that interferes with another player’s shot);
• tripping and falling in a hazard, or touching the hazard to prevent falling;
• taking practice swings and hitting the sand in the bunker AFTER you hit your ball OUT of the bunker.
None of these activities would be considered testing the condition of the hazard.

Here are some examples of actions that WOULD constitute testing the condition of the hazard, and would therefore be PROHIBITED:
• digging in with your feet more than necessary to take your stance;
• filling in footprints from a previous stance (if you worsen the bunker, you are not permitted to restore it);
• jamming a rake into the sand (e.g., to stand it up);
• smoothing the bunker with your club or a rake prior to your shot (but please, please, please rake the bunker after you hit your ball out, including any nearby footprints carelessly left by other golfers);
• kicking the sand;
• touching the sand with a club during a practice swing prior to hitting the ball.

Note: It is permissible to touch an obstruction in a hazard. This explains why you are allowed to ground your club on a bridge that crosses a hazard. You may also touch the bridge during a practice swing; however, you may not remove any loose impediments lying on the bridge.

Here are some other fun rulings about playing in the sand:
1. If you have to stand in a bunker to hit a ball that lies outside the bunker, you are allowed to touch the sand on your backswing.
2. If a player takes several practice swings in a bunker before he hits his shot, and he hits the sand during each of those practice swings, the total penalty is two strokes. All of those swings together are viewed as one infraction.
3. If a player accidentally kicks a pine cone (or any other loose impediment) into a bunker on his way in, he is not permitted to remove it. The penalty would be two strokes (loss of hole in match play).
4. You are permitted by rule (believe it or not, there’s actually a decision about this) to swat away an insect in a hazard – just don’t swat your ball in the process.
5. If your ball is in a hazard, and another player hits a ball and knocks a divot near your ball, you are permitted to remove it. The reason is that you are always entitled to the lie that your stroke gave you. On the other hand, if a pine cone falls out of a tree and lands behind your ball, you may not remove it. The distinction between these two rulings is that the divot landing near your ball was caused by another player; the pine cone falling behind your ball was caused by Mother Nature.
6. If you casually throw a rake into the bunker, rather than place it, there is no penalty.
7. If you hit your ball and fail to extricate it from the bunker, you may rake the area around your first shot provided nothing is done to improve the lie for your next shot. However, if your next shot caroms off the side of the bunker and lands in that smoothed area, you would be penalized two strokes (loss of hole).
8. You are not permitted to touch a loose impediment during your backswing – that would include twigs, leaves, and the oft-mentioned pine cone. And that detached branch that is lying right behind your ball? Don’t even think about tossing it out of the bunker. If you suspect you can’t hit your ball without touching those loose impediments during your backswing, or that branch is preventing you from hitting any golf shot known to man, then it’s best to take your medicine and declare that ball unplayable [see Rules #3-Unplayable Ball, posted in March]. Taking relief for an unplayable ball will cost you one stroke; hitting that pine cone on your backswing or removing that branch will cost you two strokes.
9. You are permitted to touch anything growing in the hazard; plants, shrubs, and trees are not loose impediments.

I believe I’ve given you enough bunker rules to think about for now, Lulu. Have fun playing in the sand!


Copyright © 2008 Linda Miller. All rights reserved.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Ask Linda #58-Scoring confusion

Dear Linda,
Recently, while playing a local course my friend encountered the following situation. He hit his tee shot just off the fairway in the rough. He proceeded to hit his second shot on this par five. The ball was again in the rough. He hit his third shot to within 10 yards of the green. He walk up to hit his fourth shot and then realized this was not the ball he teed-up with. He went back to where his tee shot ended up and found his original ball. He proceeded to hit it into a tree, never saw his ball come out into the fairway. He now drops another ball and that one goes into the rough. He now goes out into the fairway and sees what he thought was his lost ball. He now hits that and is just short of the green. He then hits on the green and then two putts. We cannot figure what score he should take on that hole. Also, while he was playing the wrong ball more than 5 minutes passed, so was he permitted to go back and look for the original, which when he did, he found immediately.
Thank you, Lou-Lou
PS I love your very informative "Ask Linda"

Dear Lou Lou,
Are we playing Stump the Chump, or did this really happen? I’m guessing it did – it would take quite an imagination to make up this adventure!

I’m going to spoil the story by giving away the ending (a time-saver for those of you who are not inclined to plow through the lengthy explanation). In match play, your friend lost the hole as soon as he hit a wrong ball. In stroke play he was disqualified for playing a wrong ball and not correcting that error before he played from the next tee. In a casual round, on a busy golf course, pace of play etiquette and friendship would dictate that you pick up before that 200 yard trek back to your ball and record your most likely score for the hole (read on to find out what that might be).

For those of you who are more adventurous, let’s take a step-by-step look at everything your friend did, take note of what he did wrong, and count his strokes as we go along.

1. His tee shot is stroke #1.
2. His second shot (the one he hit from the rough, to the rough, to 10 yards short of the green, where he discovered the ball he had been hitting was not his) was a wrong ball. The penalty for hitting a wrong ball in stroke play is two strokes. His total up to now in stroke play would be 3 strokes (tee shot plus penalty). Any strokes and penalties incurred while playing a wrong ball do not count. Again, if this were a match play competition, he would have lost the hole as soon as he hit a wrong ball.
3. Your friend is done playing this hole if this is match play. He will continue playing if this is a stroke play event, so let’s take a look at what happened next. He went back, found his original ball, and hit it. His procedure here is correct, and he has now hit stroke #4. He was not searching for this ball while he was hitting all those shots with the wrong ball, so the fact that five minutes had elapsed is irrelevant. The five-minute clock does not start until he begins the search for the original ball.
4. Stroke #4 (the one that hit the tree) was deemed lost when he put another ball into play under stroke and distance. (As soon as he dropped a ball and played it from where he hit his previous shot, he was playing under stroke and distance unless he declared that shot to be a provisional, which he apparently did not, since it was not one of the details in your brain-teaser.) There is a one-stroke penalty for a lost ball, and you of course count the stroke he made with the ball he dropped. That adds two strokes to his score, so we are now up to 6 strokes.
5. Here is where the real trouble starts. When he put the new ball into play under stroke and distance (the one he dropped and hit into the rough), the original ball that hit the tree and caromed into the fairway was deemed lost. He is not permitted to play that ball; it should have gone into his pocket. When he hit that “lost” ball (yes, we know he found it, but it is lost according to the rules of golf), he hit a “wrong ball,” which carries a two-stroke penalty. That brings the total to 8 strokes.
6. The rest of the strokes played with the wrong ball do not count in his score. He is required to continue with the ball he dropped under the stroke and distance rule and subsequently hit into the rough. If he does not return to play that ball before teeing off on the next hole, he is disqualified. If he does return to play that ball, his score is 8 plus however many strokes it takes to finish the hole.

Please note that if your friend’s score for the hole turns out to be more than he is allowed under ESC, then when he posts his score he will have to subtract some shots, depending on his course handicap. (For a more detailed explanation of posting scores and ESC (Equitable Stroke Control), please read Ask Linda #39-Understanding ESC, posted in February, and Ask Linda #32-Posting Scores, posted in January.)

One piece of advice, if I may. If this was just a casual round among friends, then unless you are playing in the dead of winter with no other golfers in sight, both your friends and the golfers playing behind you would be eternally grateful if you would pick up that wrong ball that lay ten yards from the green and not complete the hole. For handicap purposes you would record your most likely score, which in this case would appear to be the maximum you are entitled to under ESC. If there is a wager riding on the outcome, it’s time to pay up graciously and hope for better luck at the next hole.


Copyright © 2008 Linda Miller. All rights reserved.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Ask Linda #57-Ball falling off tee

The SJGA "rule of the day" deals with one situation of "ball falling off tee". It may occur at any time of the pre-shot routine. Could you please clarify in what situation the player will be penalized? Here are a few examples:
1) Before addressing;
2) After addressing, ball falls off tee by itself;
3) After addressing, ball falls off tee caused by the player when touching the ball, or the tee, or the ground;
4) Ball falls off tee by itself in the middle of the swing but the player stops the swing before hitting it;
5) Same as 4) except that this player never addressed the ball (club head never touched ground);
6) Same as 4) except that this player hits the falling ball in air;
7) Similar to 6) except that the ball has already settled down on ground when being hit.
Lou Lou

Dear Lou Lou,
First, allow me to clarify for everyone that it is not the “SJGA Rule of the Day,” but rather the “USGA Rule of the Day” that is being posted on the SJGA website with the permission of the United States Golf Association. It would be well worth your time to peruse the USGA website ( for rules information; it is chock full of fun stuff (rules, decisions, videos, frequently asked questions, rules quizzes – a veritable smorgasbord of information to improve your knowledge of the rules).

For those readers who may not have read this particular Rule of the Day, I have copied it below this column in a postscript.

Now for the good stuff. Lou, before this question can be answered, you must understand how the rule book defines a stroke:

"A ‘stroke’ is the forward movement of the club made with the intention of striking at and moving the ball, but if a player checks his downswing voluntarily before the clubhead reaches the ball he has not made a stroke.” [The Rules of Golf, 2008-2009 edition, Section II, Definitions, page 16]

You must also understand that a ball is not considered to be “in play” until you have made a stroke from the teeing ground.

Keeping in mind those two definitions (“stroke” and “ball in play”), let’s apply them to the teeing ground. When you tee your ball up, it is not yet in play, since you haven’t tried to hit it yet. If that ball that is not in play falls off the tee, or the wind blows it off the tee, or you accidentally knock it off the tee in addressing it, or you take a practice swing and accidentally hit the ball (whether you move it one foot or 100 feet), you may re-tee that ball without penalty. [I will explain this practice swing business further down; I don’t want to confuse you by wandering off into a different rule right now.] The reason why you are permitted to re-tee your ball under these circumstances is that you have not made a stroke at it –you have not intentionally tried to hit the ball– so it is not officially in play.

The story shifts dramatically if you have made a stroke at the ball (swung at it with the intention of hitting it). In that case, if you top the ball and it falls off the tee, or if you whiff (miss it entirely) and it either falls off the tee or remains teed, that counts as your first stroke, and you will now play your second stroke from wherever the ball lies (either on or off the tee). If you re-tee it, you are playing a ball under stroke and distance. You will incur a one-stroke penalty, and your second drive will count as your third stroke on the hole.

If the ball starts falling off the tee after you have begun your stroke, then:
1. If you voluntarily stop your stroke, there is no penalty and you may re-tee it.
2. If you continue your stroke and hit the ball (whether it is still falling or has hit the ground), there is no penalty and the stroke counts (Rule 11-3).

Please understand that these rules pertain only to the teeing ground. If you accidentally move your ball during a practice swing anywhere else (through the green, on the putting green, in a hazard), you must add a penalty stroke to your score and replace the ball. And if you cause your ball to move anywhere else (e.g., you address your ball and it moves), and then hit that moving ball, you must count your stroke plus one penalty stroke.

Now let’s take a look at your question. Remember that a ball is not in play until a player has made a stroke from the teeing ground, and that a stroke is not a stroke if there is no intention to hit the ball. You asked whether the player would incur a penalty for a ball falling off the tee under the following circumstances:

1) Before addressing;
Answer: No penalty. Reason: Ball not in play.
2) After addressing, ball falls off tee by itself;
Answer: No penalty. Reason: Ball not in play.
3) After addressing, ball falls off tee caused by the player when touching the ball, or the tee, or the ground;
Answer: No penalty. Reason: Ball not in play.
4) Ball falls off tee by itself in the middle of the swing but the player stops the swing before hitting it;
Answer: No penalty. Reason: Ball not in play. Player has not made a stroke because he voluntarily stopped his swing.
5) Same as 4) except that this player never addressed the ball (club head never touched ground);
Answer: No penalty. Reason: Ball not in play. Player has not made a stroke because he voluntarily stopped his swing.
6) Same as 4) except that this player hits the falling ball in air;
Answer: No penalty. Reason: Player permitted to hit ball falling off tee (Rule 11-3).
7) Similar to 6) except that the ball has already settled down on ground when being hit;
Answer: No penalty. Reason: Player permitted to hit ball that has fallen off the tee (Rule 11-3).

Seven different situations and no penalties – amazing!


Reply from Lou Lou:
Thank you, Linda. I love your answer, particularly the "ball in play" and "stroke" definitions. These fundamentals will help me understand the rules in many confusing situations. Great work.

Copyright © 2008 Linda Miller. All rights reserved.

P.S. Here is the USGA Rule of the Day referenced by Lou Lou:

18-2a/2 Ball Falling Off Tee When Stroke Just Touches It Is Picked Up and Re-Teed
Q: A player making his first stroke on a hole just touched the ball and it fell off the tee. He picked up the ball, re-teed it and played out the hole. What is the ruling?
A: When the player made a stroke, the ball was in play (see Definition of "Ball in Play"). When he lifted the ball, he incurred a penalty of one stroke under Rule 18-2a and was required to replace it. However, when the player made a stroke at the re-teed ball, he played a ball under penalty of stroke and distance (see Rule 27-1a). This procedure overrides Rule 18-2a and, therefore, the penalty under Rule 18-2a does not apply. (Revised)