Monday, January 3, 2011

Ask Linda #269-Play provisional or original?

Dear Linda,
I would appreciate if you could help me with this query on the appropriate ruling.
During my regular weekend golf last Sunday, on a par 5, my opponent's third shot from the fairway went to the rough on the left slope of the putting green. As the original ball may not be found in the rough, he immediately announced that he would play a provisional ball and dropped a ball on the fairway under Rule 27-1. The provisional ball landed on the green. He then went forward to search for his original ball in the left rough and found it within 5 minutes. He hit the original ball from the rough and it landed on the green. On the way to the green, he picked up his provisional ball and continued to play with the original ball. He two-putted the original ball and his score was a bogey.
When I reached home, I search for the appropriate ruling. I came across Decision 27-1/2. There is a subtle difference between the scenario in Decision 27-1/2 and my Sunday game. In Decision 27-1/2, it states that the player did go forward to search for his original ball briefly and then went back to drop another ball. In the case of Decision 27-1/2, the dropped ball is the ball in play. In my Sunday scenario, the player went forward to search for his ball AFTER hitting the dropped ball. My question is: in my Sunday scenario, is the dropped ball the ball in play? If so, then his original ball should be deemed as lost. I would appreciate if you could enlighten me on the applicable ruling for my Sunday scenario. Thank you.

Dear Lou Lou,
The player in your scenario proceeded correctly. When a player suspects that his ball may be lost, he has the option to play a provisional ball. He must announce that the second ball is being played provisionally, and he must play that ball before he goes forward to search for the original (Rule 27-2a, first paragraph). A player loses the option to play a provisional ball once he goes forward to search for the original. In that case, if he does not find his original ball, he must return to where he hit the original shot and play another ball, adding a one-stroke penalty to his score. This procedure is known as “stroke and distance.” The purpose of the provisional ball rule is to save time. A second ball played after a search has been conducted is never a provisional ball; such a ball is always played under stroke and distance (Rule 27-2a, second paragraph).

In your example, the player hit his original ball, thought it might be lost, announced he would hit a provisional, and did so immediately, before going forward to search. He then found the original within five minutes, pocketed his provisional, and played the original. This player followed the provisional ball rule to the letter.

Decision 27-1/2 deals with a player who searches for his ball for less than five minutes, returns to where he hit his original ball, drops another ball, and then another player finds his ball before five minutes have elapsed. This player did not hit a provisional ball. As soon as he dropped that other ball with the intention to play it under stroke and distance, it became the ball in play (Rule 20-4) and the original ball was deemed “lost” (Definition of Lost Ball).

The difference between the scenario in Decision 27-1/2 and the player’s procedure in your Sunday game is not as subtle as you might think. The player in the Decision did not hit a provisional ball, and was required to play his second ball under penalty of stroke and distance as soon as he dropped it; the player in your Sunday game followed proper procedure in hitting his provisional ball, and was therefore entitled to play his original when it was found within the five-minute search period.

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