Monday, October 11, 2010

Ask Linda #246-Hitting branch in hazard

Hi Linda!
I am a new subscriber to your website. I play college golf and my coach and I often have discussions about the rules of golf. We talked about a situation the other day that I wonder if you can help me with. I have read the rules on the USGA website but I am still confused. Here is the situation: A player hits his ball into a hazard. He has a stance and is able to play the ball. The player takes a practice swing and hits a tree branch with his club, knocking some leaves off. Is there a penalty? Does it matter if the player was unaware of the branch when he took his practice swing?
Lou Lou

Dear Lou Lou,
A player is not permitted to improve the area of his intended swing [Rule 13-2]. So the answer to your question depends on whether knocking down those leaves has made it easier for you to swing.

There are situations where knocking down one leaf will cause you to incur a penalty, while knocking down many leaves will not. Suppose you are under a tree that has only one leaf. If you take a practice swing and knock down that leaf, you have improved the area of your intended swing and will incur a two-stroke penalty. This is because you have eliminated the one leaf that might distract you when you hit your ball.

Now suppose you are under a tree with many leaves, and your practice swing knocks down several leaves. If still more leaves remain on the tree in the area where you will swing, there is no penalty for knocking down a few. You have not improved the area of your intended swing; when you hit your ball there will still be leaves in your way [Decision 13-2/22].

In deciding whether you have improved the area of your intended swing and thereby incurred a penalty, the deciding factor is whether you have eliminated the obstacle. If you have, then the penalty is two strokes (loss of hole in match play). If the obstacle remains, there is no penalty.

Note that the fact that you are standing in a hazard makes no difference with respect to this rule. However, in taking a practice swing in a hazard, be very careful not to touch the ground with your club. You may brush the top of the grass, but if your club contacts the ground, the penalty is two strokes (loss of hole in match play).

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