Monday, December 20, 2010

Ask Linda #265-Unfair double penalty?


Can you answer this question for me? In reading the Decisions book (I know..."get a life"), I came across a decision that I don't understand.

13-4/16 Removal of Loose Impediment in Water Hazard Covering Wrong Ball
Q. A player plays his ball into a water hazard. He finds a ball in the hazard and removes a loose impediment partially covering it. He discovers that the ball is not his ball. He searches for his ball but does not find it. He proceeds under Rule 26-1. Is the player subject to penalty under Rule 13-4 for removing the loose impediment?
A. Yes.

This seems entirely unfair to me. If a player is virtually certain that his ball is in a water hazard, he is permitted to search in the hazard and remove a loose impediment in order to identify his ball (otherwise the player incurs a 2-stroke penalty for striking a wrong ball). However, if the ball is not his and he is not able to locate his ball in the hazard, then he is subject to a 2-stroke penalty for touching the loose impediment? And then, he is subject to that penalty AND an additional stroke penalty for taking relief outside the hazard?

I don't see how a player can be penalized for searching in a hazard and not finding his ball.

Lou Lou

Dear readers,
I wrote the following response to “Lou Lou:”
Lou, I am going to run this by a USGA rules official early next week. On the surface, the double penalty seems unfair. I'll get back to you as soon as I get an explanation. Thanks for a very thought-provoking question.

In the interim, Lou responded:

Thanks. Please let me know what you find out.

I did get an email back from someone who has a contact at the R&A [Royal & Ancient, the governing body for golf rules outside the U.S.]. Their explanation was that there is a subtle difference between identifying your ball and searching for your ball. If you are going to identify your ball you must mark it first. But who does this while you are searching? More importantly, they said that they are aware that identifying while searching creates an unfair situation and they are considering addressing it in the next decisions/rules revision.
Lou Lou

Dear Lou Lou,

Decision 13-4/16 is one of those subtle decisions that can make grown men (and women) cry. It explains an infraction that you are more likely to read about or witness in reference to a complicated ruling in a professional golf tournament than have to deal with in your personal day-to-day golfing experience. I presented this question to a senior rules official at the USGA, and even he had to take time to research the problem before he was able to provide an answer.

The key to the answer is in the wording of the question. In Decision 13-4/16, the loose impediment is partially covering the ball in the hazard. Rule 12-1 permits the golfer to search for a ball in a hazard that is believed to be covered by loose impediments. This is a ball that you cannot see until the impediments are removed. In Decision 13-4/16, the ball was partially visible; it was not necessary to remove the loose impediments to see that a ball was there.

Once a ball is found, the golfer must follow the correct procedure to identify it. Rule 12-2 explains that the golfer must tell a fellow golfer that he plans to identify the ball. Under the watchful eye of this fellow golfer, he must mark, lift, identify, and then replace the ball.

In Decision 13-6/16, the golfer is penalized for removing the loose impediments because it was not necessary to do so to discover the presence of the ball. Had the ball been completely covered and not visible until the impediments were removed, then there would be no penalty for doing so and the impediments would have to be replaced, leaving only part of the ball visible.

The ball in Decision 13-4/6 was not hidden. The player is penalized for touching loose impediments in a hazard when it was not necessary to do so to find the ball. The rule permitting players to remove loose impediments in a hazard is designed to facilitate finding a ball that is completely hidden from view.

Lou, the USGA rules guru I consulted also mentioned (as did your R&A source) that the rules mavens are looking at the possibility of changing this rule in 2012 to allow players to lift a leaf to ID a ball. Until then, if your ball is in a hazard, and you can see a ball in the hazard, don’t touch anything. If you are unable to ID the ball without lifting it or moving a loose impediment, make sure you get a witness and follow the procedures outlined in Rule 12-2.

Copyright © 2010 Linda Miller. All rights reserved.