Friday, October 30, 2009

Ask Linda #171-Repairing damage to the green

Dear Linda,

Wow, did I do a double take of your two stroke penalty for repairing a spike mark in the line of putt.

I have always repaired ball marks for my own ball, which are almost always in front of my ball, caused by the ball backing up about a half foot. That can’t be a two stroke penalty.

Everyone in the foursome repairs ball marks wherever they are.

If ball marks are OK, how do you tell spike marks in today’s golf with only soft spikes allowed? If the area around the hole is roughed up by someone dragging the flag out of the hole, we also tamp that down as it is unfair to have the hole damaged.

Is that really wrong????

Lou Lou

Dear Lou Lou,

I’m afraid you’re in for a bit of a shock, Lou. You are permitted to repair old hole plugs, and you are permitted to repair damage to the green caused by the impact of a ball – nothing else. You will incur a two-stroke penalty for any other repair if it might assist you in your play of the hole (Rule 16-1c).

So go ahead and repair your ball mark (and a couple of others, while you’re at it), and stomp down on an old hole plug if it has risen above the surface, but don’t repair anything else that may be on anyone’s line of putt until everyone has finished putting.

Here are examples of some things you may and may not do:

1. You may remove loose impediments from your line of putt, but you may not brush away dew or frost.

2. You may not remove casual water from the hole (Rule 13-2).

3. You may not touch the inside of the hole unless you are repairing damage from a ball mark.

4. If the hole has been damaged by anything other than a ball mark, you may not repair it if the hole is still basically round.

5. You may only repair damage that has significantly changed the shape of the hole.

6. If you remove an acorn that is not solidly embedded (and therefore a loose impediment), you may not repair the depression in which the acorn lay.

7. Spike marks are rare in these days of soft spikes. However, golfers occasionally get sloppy and drag their feet on the green, thereby raising tufts of grass. You are not permitted to tamp those tufts down if they are on your line of putt, but you are permitted to chastise the inconsiderate player who did not fix the damage he caused.

8. You may repair a ball mark that was previously repaired by another golfer, as long as it is clearly identifiable as a ball mark.

9. You may place your hand on the green to determine if it is wet as long as you don’t roughen or scrape the grass to test the surface. Be careful not to touch your line of putt, as that would be a penalty.

10. Technically, you are permitted to rub your ball on the green to clean it. However, since such an act could be misinterpreted as an attempt to test the surface of the green, I would recommend that you avoid any argument about your intentions and find some other way to clean your ball.

Putting is tough enough without having to contend with spike marks and damage caused by players who carelessly remove the flagstick from the hole or drop it on the green. How hard can it be to lift the flagstick straight out of the hole and place it gently just off the green? And didn’t your mother teach you not to drag your feet when you walk?

Repair those ball marks and old hole plugs before you putt. Any other repairs must wait until your group is ready to leave.


Copyright © 2009 Linda Miller. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Ask Linda #170-Follow-up to partner fixing spike mark


Thanks. After writing you [Ask Linda #169], I found the following in the Decisions of appears to give a different answer. Thoughts??

31-8. Effect of Other Penalties: If a competitor's breach of a Rule assists his partner's play, the partner incurs the applicable penalty in addition to any penalty incurred by the competitor. In all other cases where a competitor incurs a penalty for breach of a Rule, the penalty does not apply to his partner.

Lou Lou

Dear Lou Lou,

There is no rule prohibiting fixing spike marks that are not on your line of putt. You are always permitted (and encouraged) to repair damage to the green that will not assist you in your play of the hole. Your partner did not improve her line of putt, so there is no penalty to her. She did not breach a rule for herself.

When your partner fixed a spike mark on your line of putt, she was assisting you, her teammate, by improving your line. Since your line is the line that was improved, the penalty is yours for a breach of Rule 16-1c.

If the spike mark had also been on your partner’s line of putt, both of you would have incurred a two-stroke penalty.

Rule 31-8 is referring to a situation where you are penalized because you breached a rule, and your partner is also penalized if your breach assists her. For example, suppose both of your balls are lying in a bunker. Before you hit your ball, you pick up a fallen branch and toss it out of the bunker. You will be penalized two strokes under Rule 13-4c for moving a loose impediment in a hazard; you breached the rule. If your partner’s ball in the bunker was nearby, and removing that branch assisted her subsequent play, then Rule 31-8 tells you that your partner will also be assessed a two-stroke penalty. Your breach of a rule helped your partner.

Your partner did not breach a rule when she fixed a spike mark that was not on her line. The breach and penalty are yours when your partner breaks a rule to assist you. Her action improved your line; the two-stroke penalty is yours alone.


Copyright © 2009 Linda Miller. All rights reserved.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Ask Linda #169-Partner fixes spike mark


My partner and I were playing in a better ball of partners event (stroke play). As I was getting ready to putt, my partner repaired a spike mark in my line (it was not in her line). Not sure of what to do, we penalized her 2 strokes. Was this the correct application of the rule?

Lou Lou

Dear Lou Lou,

No, Lou, the two-stroke penalty should have been assessed to you. Rule 16-1c prohibits fixing damage to the putting green that might assist you in playing the hole. Fixing that spike mark on your line assisted you, so you incur the penalty. There is no penalty to your partner, since the spike mark was not on her line of putt. Had it been, she would also have been assessed a two-stroke penalty.

The ruling would be different if you were playing in an individual stroke play tournament and one of your fellow-competitors fixed spike marks on your line of putt. In that case, your fellow-competitor would be penalized two strokes [Rule 1-2]. You would be penalized only if you sanctioned the repair [Decision 13-2/36].


Copyright © 2009 Linda Miller. All rights reserved.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Ask Linda #168-Hitting a moving ball

Dear Linda,

You’re the best!

Last weekend I was in a two-man scramble. Playing the par 4 18th hole we were on the green in two, about 30 feet away. We putted once, and then had a three-foot putt for par. Both of us missed and had a 7 inch putt for a 5. My partner hit the putt, babied it. Realizing it wasn't going in, he hit it again (while it was still moving) about 3 inches from the hole into the cup. I said that gives us a 6 and I lost my turn to make the 7 inch putt. We put a 6 on the card and turned it in. We missed the money by 2 strokes...we needed to make that three-foot par putt.

Thinking about it later, when he hit the moving ball, he committed a violation. Since that hit wasn't a legal stroke, I should have been able to attempt the 7 inch putt and hopefully made a 5 on the hole.

I turned in an incorrect scorecard and should have been disqualified.

If he had been playing his own ball and hit the moving ball, it would have been a two-stroke penalty and he would have to putt from (3'' or 7") for an 8 (maybe) on the hole.

Did I think this through correctly, or am I still wrong?

Thanks for your blog, Lou Lou

Dear Lou Lou,

I have to preface my answer by reminding everyone that scrambles are not an official format under USGA rules. You will not find rules for scrambles in the official rulebook.

That being said, scrambles are a popular golf tournament, and the rules of golf as well as the rules for the scramble should be observed.

There is generally a rule in most scrambles that advises players that once the ball is holed the score stands. Players who miss a short putt must mark their ball, rather than hit it into the hole, so that their partner has a chance to make the putt.

When your partner hit the ball into the hole, you lost your opportunity to putt. He was putting for a 5. Hitting the moving ball into the hole was the team’s 6th stroke. He incurred a two-stroke penalty for hitting a moving ball [Rule 14-5]. Your team’s score for the hole was 8. You would not be permitted to try the putt, since the ball was holed. Since you recorded a 6 for the hole, your team would be disqualified for recording a score that was lower than what you took on the hole [Rule 6-6d].

If you were unsure how to score that hole, you should have presented the facts to the Committee and waited for their decision before signing your scorecard. You were also entitled to attempt the putt yourself under Rule 3-3 (Doubt as to Procedure) and then allow the Committee to decide. They would have told you that you were not permitted to try the putt after your partner holed out, and that your score for the hole was 8.


Copyright © 2009 Linda Miller. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Ask Linda #167-Alternate shot, incorrect order

Dear Linda,

I was playing in a selected drive/alternate shot format, and the question came up whether there was a penalty if a player hit two consecutive shots instead of alternating shots with his partner. One player thought there would be a penalty, and another thought you would just replace the ball and have the correct player hit the next shot. I wasn’t sure, and promised I would ask you. This was a stroke play tournament, but I would also like to know the ruling in match play.

Thanks, Lou Lou

Dear Lou Lou,

In match play, during alternate shot, if you hit a ball when it was your partner’s turn, your team loses the hole.

In stroke play, the penalty is two strokes. Any stroke or strokes played in incorrect order are canceled. The ball must be placed on the spot (your best estimate is acceptable) where it was first played in incorrect order, and the player whose turn it was to hit the ball will now play it. If the error is not corrected before a player from that team tees off on the next hole, then that team is disqualified from the tournament [Rule 29-3].


Copyright © 2009 Linda Miller. All rights reserved.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Ask Linda #166-Most improved golfer

Hello Linda,

Choosing the Most Improved Player of the year…do we use Improved Factor or Improved Index?

Thank you for your help.

Regards, Lulu

Dear Lulu,

I would recommend that you use the USGA formula for finding the Improvement Factor that was developed by Dean Knuth. The formula allows you to fairly compare improvement at different levels.

A golfer who improves from 20.0 to 10.0 has not improved as much as a golfer whose handicap index drops from 10.0 to scratch (0.0). Even though both golfers have shaved 10 points off their Index, the drop becomes substantially more difficult for a player whose Index is lower. The drop from 20.0 to 10.0 is more comparable to a drop from 5.0 to scratch; these two drops would have about the same Improvement Factor using the formula.

Here is how to calculate a player’s Improvement Factor:

Add 12 to a player's Handicap Index® at the start of a season (A), then add 12 to the Index at the end of the season (B). Divide A by B, calculating to three decimal places to get the player's Improvement Factor.

Let’s do the math for Daisy, whose Index in April was 18.4. At the end of October, her Index was 14.4.

Step A: 18.4+12=30.4

Step B: 14.4+12=26.4

Step C: 30.4 divided by 26.4 = 1.151

Daisy’s Improvement Factor is 1.151.

Now let’s compare Daisy to Rose, whose Index dropped from 10.7 to 6.7.

Step A: 10.7+12=22.7

Step B: 6.7+12=18.7

Step C: 22.7 divided by 18.7 = 1.213

Rose has the higher Improvement Factor, and she will be your Most Improved Golfer. Even though both players improved their Index by the exact same number of points, it is more difficult to take four points off your Index when you are a single-digit handicapper than when your Index is in the 20’s.

You might want to establish some other criteria to winning the award, such as:

1. A player must have a minimum number of scores in his handicap record for the season.

2. A player is not eligible if her Index has been lowered by a reduction penalty.

3. A player may win the award only once.

Most Improved Golfer is a coveted award – let’s give it to the right person!


Copyright © 2009 Linda Miller. All rights reserved.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Making Competitions Fair

I recently played in a four-person scramble tournament that brought home the advisability of providing senior tees for older gentlemen.

My team was comprised of two men around 60, one over 80, and one female. The handicaps ranged from 9 to 14.

All of the men were assigned to the middle tees; women played the forward tees. When the forward tees were near the middle tees, my drive, understandably, was never useful. However, on those holes where the forward tees were placed well ahead of the middle tees, I had the chance to contribute. This gave me something to look forward to, and helped me feel I was valuable to my team for something besides chipping and putting.

The older gentleman, on the other hand, was frustrated in his attempts to contribute off the tee. Despite having a very good driving day (most of his drives were well-struck and finished in the fairway), he was never able to outdrive the younger men. While he claimed that he had a good day because he was pleased that he hit the ball well, I’m fairly certain it was discouraging that all of those good shots were useless in the competition.

The point I am trying to make is that tournaments should be designed to bring all the participants into the competition. In mixed gender tournaments, there should always be a number of holes where the difference in distance allows the women to contribute. And in tournaments where you have men of advanced years, senior tees should be used and should be located far enough in front of the men’s tees to allow the seniors to have a fair chance to compete.

Be careful not to err in the other direction. If you have any holes on your course, for example, where the senior tees are so far ahead as to change a par 5 into a par 4, or to turn a difficult par 4 into a piece of cake, then you may want to put all the men on the same tee box, moving the seniors to the front and the younger men to the back.

If you take the time to set up your course fairly for all ages and both genders, your tournament will be more fair, more fun, and more successful.


Copyright © 2009 Linda Miller. All rights reserved.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Ask Linda #165-Wrong info, match play

Linda, An interesting thing happened on our way to victory during a recent match play. During sudden death as we were putting out, our opponent putted and said she had a six on the hole. Since the rest of us were putting for a seven, we picked up our balls. Our opponent then said she made a mistake and had a seven. How should this have been handled? Would she automatically lose the hole?


Dear Lulu,

This is a tricky situation, Lulu. Ordinarily, if a player gives wrong information about the number of strokes taken, and does not correct her mistake before her opponent hits her next shot, , the player will lose the hole [Rule 9-2b, Decision 9-2/5]. Lifting a ball or a ball marker is equivalent to making a stroke.

In your incident, wrong information about the number of strokes taken did cause all of you to lift your balls. However, since your opponent holed out for no worse than a half (she scored seven, and everyone else had a putt for a seven), the hole is halved [Decision 9-2/6].

When a player reports a wrong score that causes her opponent with a chance for a half to pick up her ball, the hole is halved. This ruling is found under the Match Play rule (Rule 2) and not the Information as to Strokes Taken rule (Rule 9). Rule 2-2 tells us that if a player holes out, her opponent is left with a stroke for a half, and the player subsequently incurs a penalty, then the hole is halved. Your opponent incurred a penalty when she gave you wrong information that caused you to pick up your ball. Consequently, the hole was halved and your match will move on to the next hole.


Copyright © 2009 Linda Miller. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Ask Linda #164-Wrong ball is partner’s


I play on a team where my partner and I play a better ball match against our opponents, and each of us also plays an individual match.

During today's match play we had the following situation:

Susie had lost her individual match, but she and her opponent were still playing for the team better ball. Her opponent played a wrong ball, which was her partner’s ball. Her partner realized it before she also played the wrong ball.

Here is what we thought was the correct rule and way to handle the situation:

The person who played the wrong ball was disqualified from that hole. Her partner however was not. The partner's ball was replaced and she played her correct ball with no penalty.

How did we do?


Dear Lulu,

You followed Rule 30-3c to the letter. Well done!


Copyright © 2009 Linda Miller. All rights reserved.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Ask Linda #163-Drop club in bunker


What if your ball is in a bunker and while you are walking in you bobble your club and drop it in the bunker. How should you treat this one?

Sand in the head,


Dear Lulu,

You will not incur a penalty for accidentally dropping your club –or even yourself, should you trip and fall– in a hazard. As long as you have not deliberately dropped your club or fallen in the sand to test the condition of the hazard, and you have not improved your lie, you’re good to go [Rule 13-4, Exception 1]. Pick yourself (or your club) up, dust yourself off, and proceed with your shot.


Copyright © 2009 Linda Miller. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Ask Linda #162-Who loses what?

Dear Linda,

Recently in a match play match the following occurred. Playing three matches at the same time (2 single matches and one better ball match), John and Jack were partners and Peter and Paul were partners. John and Peter played a singles match. So did Jack and Paul. John and Jack played a better ball match against Peter and Paul. Lift, clean and place was allowed.

John played from the beginning a Bridgestone ball and his opponent Peter played a Titleist, but changed during the round to Bridgestone, which he didn't announce and John didn't notice. At a certain hole, both hit a shot to the front of the green and both balls ended up close to each other. Peter walked to the first ball, marked it, picked it up, cleaned it and placed it back and hit the ball in the bunker.

In the first instance, when John came up walking behind Peter, John thought that Peter was walking to John's ball, but since Peter picked it up, cleaned it, placed it and played it, he expected that it was Peter's ball indeed.

John walked to the second ball, saw that it was a Bridgestone and, without checking carefully, played that ball and hit it close to the pin with a good chance to win the hole. John marked that ball and put it in his pocket waiting for the other three players to hit their balls.

Peter went in the bunker to play his ball and saw a marking on the ball that he didn't recognize and asked John if he had a certain red mark on his ball. John said "yes", looked at the ball in his pocket and discovered that there was no mark on the ball he had played.

Conclusion: Peter had played John's ball and after that John had played Peter's ball.


John's opinion:

- He admitted that he should have carefully examined the ball he was going to hit and therefore was responsible for hitting a wrong ball.

- Peter lost that hole in his singles match against John since Peter was the first one who played a wrong ball, which results in loss of hole.

- The fact that John played the wrong ball after him didn't affect his singles match, but affected the better ball match.

- Therefore John and Peter were out of the better ball match for that hole since they both played a wrong ball and it was up to Jack and Paul to decide the outcome of that hole for the better ball match.

Peter's opinion:

Peter agreed with the result for the better ball match, but disagreed with the result for the singles match: in his opinion, the hole was halved since they both played a wrong ball.

I would appreciate your always accurate and well-documented opinion.

Best Regards,

Lou Lou

Dear Lou Lou,

I am going to try to make my answer very succinct, Lou, since I suspect everyone’s head must be spinning by now.

Peter was the first player to hit a wrong ball. As soon as he did so, he lost the hole to his opponent John. Rule 15-3a explains that, in match play, when a player hits his opponent’s ball, and his opponent then hits the player’s ball, the first player to make a stroke at the wrong ball loses the hole.

Both Peter and John are disqualified from the hole in the better ball match, since each of them hit a wrong ball. The better ball point for that hole will be determined by the play of Jack and Paul.

I imagine it is clear to everyone at this point that the whole situation could have been avoided had Peter observed the courtesy of informing John when he switched from a Titleist to a Bridgestone. I hope this also drives home the importance of drawing distinctive markings on your golf balls.


Copyright © 2009 Linda Miller. All rights reserved.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Ask Linda #161-Drive cart over ball

Dear Linda,

If while driving a cart, a player runs over his own ball, is there a penalty?

Lou Lou

Dear Lou Lou,

In this case, Lou, the assumption is that you moved your ball when you ran over it with your cart. You would have to be able to prove that the ball did not move to avoid penalty. This is a situation where any doubt about whether the ball moved would be resolved against the player.

You would incur a one-stroke penalty under Rule 18-2a for moving your ball. It is a violation when your equipment causes your ball to move. When you are driving a cart, it is considered to be your equipment.

If the lie was altered (I'm thinking here that the weight of the cart might push the ball further into the ground), you would then have to place it in the nearest most similar lie within one club-length [Rule 20-3b].

Note that if you or your equipment accidentally move another player’s ball while you are helping him search for it, there is no penalty and the ball must be replaced. It would not be in the best interest of the game or of sportsmanship to discourage you from assisting your fellow golfers!


Copyright © 2009 Linda Miller. All rights reserved.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Minding other players’ business


In my mind, this [practice of posting other people’s scores (see Ask Linda #147-Posting incomplete rounds)] is quintessentially what is wrong with the game of golf, and women's golf, especially. (Could you imagine a guy posting his buddy's score or worse yet, giving him a 12 on every hole not played?!!) This playing partner, presumably a friend, was having a bad day… so what? This new Gestapo-esque mandate of turning in one's card assumes that all golfers are cheaters. What happened to the assumption that people are basically honest and that golf is a game of honor? They must have been playing for a LOT of money (!!..btw also against the rules but it goes on anyway.). It offends me that the game has been tainted in this manner and I think that it impedes any novice golfer who may want to pursue this great sport.

The next opportunity you get, I would like to see you address this issue. It's a game for Pete's sake…get over yourself!! I'm not saying that the rules of the game should go unheeded, but a little less minding of other people's business and a little more live and let live would make for more fun! We don't need more Rules Queens!

Thanks for letting me vent!


Dear Lulu,

Before I write a response, I want to be certain I understand what issue you would like me to address. Am I correct in thinking that you disapprove of other people posting scores for you? If this is not the issue, please clarify.


Dear Linda,

That is only part of the issue, but you are correct, I do not agree with that policy. I think that there is a general mean-spiritedness that pervades the game and I am sorry to say it but I think that women are worse offenders than men. It is a "me up you down" attitude that is NOT under the aegis of "friendly competition". The letter you received was emblematic of that attitude. That writer did not think that her playing partner was really ill and wanted to be sure that her score got posted. Was that really her business? You may not agree with me and if so, I am fine with that, but I just thought that since people read your postings that this would be something to address. I do not recommend that the rules be flaunted but I do think that a live and let live approach is preferable and that people should be given the benefit of the doubt and that there should be less emphasis on what other players are doing, in general. This does not apply to scheduled events such as match play, etc, but in an informal game, I think that players should mind their own business.

I hope that I have clarified my position.



Dear Lulu,

I'm hoping you're not suggesting that I recommend that players not post all their scores, since that would be a violation of the rules.

The reader who sent me this question is a member of a 9-holers group. These are high handicap players who play together once a week, and one person collects the cards and is responsible to post the scores. She simply did not understand what to do about posting a score for a player who did not complete her round. I hope she now understands that she cannot post that round since the player did not play at least seven holes, and that she also understands how to calculate scores for the holes not played.

We all have good and bad days on the golf course. I have, on very rare occasions (I can recall only two), left a golf course because I was playing too poorly to enjoy my round. However, I still posted 9-hole scores, since I had played at least seven holes. I know that the system will throw those scores out anyway, so I follow the rules of posting and don't worry about those high scores.

Posting scores is not a punishment. It is just a helpful tool to keep track of your progress, and provides an honest and unbiased method of fairly competing with other players whose skill level is not the same as yours. Players who don't post scores because they are either too high or too low are cheating the system and do not have a correct handicap. Some of them end up with a vanity handicap (artificially low) that allows them to gain entry into tournaments where they do not belong, and others end up winning handicap tournaments because their handicap is artificially high (cheaters who are affectionately called "sandbaggers"). I have little sympathy or respect for either of these types of cheaters. All players should post all scores from every acceptable round. This is the type of honesty that the USGA expects; this honesty will yield a handicap for each player that reflects his true scoring potential.

There is no rule that prohibits other players from posting a score for you, provided they have your permission to do so. The reader who sent in the question in #147 was responsible to post the scores of all the players competing that day, and had their permission. Clubs or organizations that require that you turn in your cards so that they can post your rounds are motivated by a desire to keep everyone’s handicap accurate. They are aware that some players are reluctant to post high or low scores, and they are choosing to override that reluctance in an effort to allow the handicap system to work as it was intended. If everyone would post all acceptable scores, and remember to apply Equitable Score Control (ESC) to those scores, then net tournaments everywhere would be noticeably more fair and consequently more enjoyable.

I don’t have a solution to how to get every player to post every acceptable score. Groups that post tournament scores or league scores for all participants are helping to remedy the problem, as are golf clubs that require that you submit your card after every round. I do not condone posting a player’s score secretly, but I would recommend that you encourage your friends to post every score from a round that meets the USGA requirements for posting [see Ask Linda #142-To post or not to post]. The USGA handicap system will only produce accurate handicaps if players are responsible. Unfortunately, no one has yet figured out how to legislate or enforce honesty.

Now let’s take a brief look at the issue of gambling. The USGA does not prohibit informal betting among friends. Below is a quote from the USGA policy on gambling that explains what type of betting is permissible:

"The USGA does not object to informal wagering among individual golfers or teams of golfers when the players in general know each other, participation in the wagering is optional and is limited to the players, the sole source of all money won by the players is advanced by the players on themselves or their own teams and the amount of money involved is such that the primary purpose is the playing of the game for enjoyment."

In layman’s terms, reasonable bets among friends when you are betting on yourself to win are fine.

If you would like to read the entire gambling policy, here is the link:


Copyright © 2009 Linda Miller. All rights reserved.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Ask Linda #160-Penalty for raking?

Dear Linda,
In this year's US Amateur at Southern Hills, during match play, a player lost the hole because his caddy raked a bunker while he was still in the bunker. Why did this happen if there is an exception to rule 13-4?
Lou Lou
P.S. The player's caddy was his father and fortunately the player did end up winning his match.

Dear Lou Lou,

Exception 2 to Rule 13-4 allows a player (or his caddie) to smooth the sand after making the stroke, even though the ball may still lie elsewhere in the bunker.

I did not witness the rules violation at Southern Hills, but I would imagine that if the player incurred a loss of hole penalty, then the caddie must have raked the sand prior to the player making his shot.


Copyright © 2009 Linda Miller. All rights reserved.