Saturday, April 30, 2011

Ask Linda #294a-Practice swing moves ball on tee

As I understand it, a ball is not "in play" until it has been hit from the tee - therefore a practice swing hitting the ball on the tee incurs no penalty or stroke count. This is the convention I'm familiar with but it would be good to hear it confirmed.
Lou Lou

Dear Lou Lou,

That is absolutely correct, Lou. A ball is not in play until it has been intentionally hit from the teeing ground. If a practice swing should accidentally move the ball before you have teed off, or a waggle during your set-up knocks the ball off the tee, simply re-tee and start again. No penalty; no stroke count. Once your ball is in play, if a practice swing moves the ball you will count one penalty stroke for moving your ball in play and you will have to replace the moved ball before hitting your next shot (see Ask Linda #294-Practice swing moves ball).

Copyright © 2011 Linda Miller. All rights reserved.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Ask Linda #294–Practice swing moves ball

Hi Linda,
We met at your Rules Clinic in Pennsylvania. Thank you for your seminar. I have a question about something that was discussed. You had stated that while making a practice swing and accidentally moving your ball you are able to replace it without penalty. Could you tell me where I can find that in the rule book? I am having a debate with my friend. He believes that there should be a stroke incurred and I was unable to find it in the rule book.
Thank you,

Dear Lulu,

What I told you during the rules clinic, Lulu, is that a practice swing is not a stroke, since you are not trying to hit the ball.

A player has not made a stroke at the ball unless she swings at it with the intention of hitting it (Definition of Stroke). When you take a practice swing, you are not planning to hit the ball, so it does not count as a stroke.

If you hit your ball when you take a practice swing, you have accidentally moved your ball in play. Rule 18-2a will tell you that if a player moves a ball in play, she incurs a penalty of one stroke and must replace the ball.

Your friend is correct, Lulu. When you accidentally move your ball in play while taking a practice swing, you incur a one-stroke penalty and you must replace your ball before you hit it.

I am delighted to learn that you are discussing the rules with your friends, and that you are seeking advice when you have a difference of opinion. This is a great way to learn the rules.

Copyright © 2011 Linda Miller. All rights reserved.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Ask Linda #293-Wrong ball?

Hi Linda.

Stroke play tournament.

Lulu A hits Lulu B's ball 185 yards onto the green.

B goes to what she thought was her ball, discovers it's actually A's ball and declares that A has hit a wrong ball.

What does B do? Her ball is now 185 yards up the fairway. A tells B to simply play another ball. B places the new ball in the correct spot and plays to the green where they pick up the original B ball.

Question: Since B did not finish the hole with the same ball as was used from the teeing ground and it was not lost or otherwise unplayable, has B played a wrong ball?
Have a great day,
Lou Lou

Dear Lou Lou,

Sometimes the wording in the rule book can be very subtle. When a rule talks about “the” ball, it means the very same ball you hit into whatever predicament it is in. On the other hand, when it talks about “a” ball, it means you are permitted to substitute another ball.

Rule 15-3b explains that if Player A hits Player B’s ball, then Player B must place a ball on the spot where her ball lay before it was hit by Player A. The players in your tale did everything correctly. Lulu B was required to place a ball (not the ball), and that is precisely what she did. Lulu B was permitted to substitute another ball after Lulu A hit her ball, so Lulu B did not hit a wrong ball and she incurs no penalty.

Indeed, if the rules required you to retrieve your ball when someone else hit it, then you might be obligated to fish your ball out of a hazard, climb an out-of-bounds fence, or march 185 yards to a putting green. What a nightmare!

Copyright © 2011 Linda Miller. All rights reserved.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

In Defense of 3/4 Handicap Allowance

Dear readers,
I received this delightful response to the reader's question in Ask Linda #291. While it is not a question, per se, I found it an interesting read. I hope you will enjoy it.

Having thoroughly enjoyed over 20 years of the best form of golf (4-ball) I would say that the 3/4 handicap rule is a great deal fairer than full h/caps. This is because the higher h/cap player is almost always less consistent. This reults in her/him on average losing individual holes by more shots than when she/he wins a hole.

Of more significance is the high/low versus mid/mid situation where I feel the matchplay handicap rules (still) favour the former combination.

Playing off ~12, I found out by accident* over the long term that I was better off with a an erratic high handicapper (off say 25 and receiving 10 strokes) when playing against a couple of say, 14-18 handicappers. All I had to do was play steadily, holding off the opposition, and wait for my partner (who might be playing as if with brooms and shovels) to nip in with 2 or 3 blinder/bandit holes - which were frequently pivotal in match-score AND psychological terms. Even when I failed in my role, leaving us say 2 or 3 down at the turn, a (possible flukey) nett birdie by my partner and a belated birdie by me would have our opponents in terminal disarray.

* I never felt guilty about this advantage I felt I had when playing with a high handicapper because this situation invariably arose from the mid-handicappers despicably avoiding the hapless rabbit (a la playground games)!
Obviously your high-handicap partner will benefit from a light touch of positivity and distracting banter - together with the odd nip of malt &/or liqueur (a small price to pay!)

Using this format I was happily successful in club, winter league and works' competitions, accumulating a number of prized scalps and a priceless collection of sometimes epic memories.

On one occasion I was obliged to play for recklessly substantial (and arguably illegal) stakes on the oppositions' long and testing home course. With us an all-too-predictable 3 down at the 8th, the enemy carelessly allowed my partner to scramble a nett par win at the long par 4 9th. I then managed (frankly epic!) back-to-back birdies at consecutive par 5s. Surfing the wave we pressed our psychological advantage. At the wicked par 4 14th I conjured my best ever 6-iron over trees and water to claim the advantage. Following a ginger downhill chip on the following hole and a nervy half at the tricky par 3 16th it only remained for our shell-shocked opponents to miss a short putt at the 17th for us be able to casually bounce the now meaningless 18th, in anticipation of the various delights of the 19th and the amusingly grudging handover of the stash.

For what it's worth I would offer the following comments to a double figure handicap golfer:
No.1 priority always is psychology.
N0.2 your short game - chip* til your hands blister (once mastered this skill never leaves you - and whatever they say about the 'dustbin lid' you should be confidently aiming to hole out - and, hey presto...! Have the pin out if you can 'see' the shot - because relying on the pin to stop your chip is an extraordinarily common but ludicrous and negative strategy - and when you regularly get close even your opponents will start to believe you can hole out) and practise putting outside your comfort zone (always treating bad sessions with indifference). Chip and putt to beyond the hole. Where allowed 'finish off' putts that go by whist the line is fresh in your mind but mark and wait if you insist on coming up short!
No.3 'course management' - play short/long/wide of difficult greens and obstacles as appropriate - shut out the Hooray-Henry Master-Blasters - you will tend to out score (and annoy) your over-ambitious opponents
N0.4 - shorten your backswing and take the heave out of your downswing - both fatally unbalance the mortal.
*practise short lobs but with a locked out dominant arm as in putting and save them for when they're NECESSARY.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Ask Linda #292-Relief from cart path is in hazard

At my home course there is a cart path that has a creek running adjacent to it on the right. If a tee shot comes to rest on the right half of the cart path, the nearest point of relief normally would put a right-handed golfer’s drop in the hazard (it is possible that a left-handed golfer could take a stance in the hazard if his drop stayed in the small area of grass between the path & hazard line) My question is: Am I correct that the options are: 1. Play the ball from the path. 2. Take a drop from the other side of the creek, (further right), and if so must the ball be dropped first between the path and hazard or can that be eliminated when it is seen that stance & relief will cause that drop to be in the hazard? 3. Is there an option to take relief to the left of the cart path?

Also if the ball lies virtually dead center on the cart path, does the player get to decide which side of the path to take relief or does it take a consensus of the group?

One more question: While it is nice to know as much as possible about the rules and how to apply them in significant competitions (Tournaments), wouldn't it lend itself to faster play and a more enjoyable experience in a friendly weekly game if a group dispensed with all the discussion & actions that this situation entails and simply tell the player to drop left of the path & move on? I myself feel that double digit handicap players (of which my group is comprised) would not score significantly different in doing so and also players of our ability very likely find ourselves in tricky situations far more often in a round than better players.

Lou Lou

Dear Lou Lou,

If I am reading your question correctly, a player seeking the nearest point of relief for a ball on the cart path will be dropping his ball in the hazard. If that is the case, then I have good news for you. A player is not permitted to drop a ball in a hazard when he is taking relief from an immovable obstruction, such as a cart path [Rule 24-2i].

The nearest point of relief from the cart path must be the point closest to where the ball lies on the cart path that (a) gives the player complete relief for his stance and his swing, (b) is not closer to the hole, and (c) is not in a hazard or on a putting green. You always have the option to play the ball on the cart path. You do not have the option to play the ball from the opposite side of the creek, since that will not be the nearest point of relief.

In your situation, I suspect that the nearest point of relief for all players will be to the left of the cart path, so you can dispense with the time-consuming discussions, drop on the left, enjoy your round with your friends, and still be playing by the rules.

Bear in mind, however, that sometimes the nearest point of relief for a ball lying on a cart path will be in a virtually unplayable lie. Let’s consider the case of a cart path that is running along the left side of a hole. To the left of the path is densely packed fescue; to the right of the path is closely mown grass (fairway). If the nearest point of relief for a ball lying on the path is in the fescue, then that is where the player must drop his ball. He may not choose to drop on the fairway. This is why I always remind players to assess their options before they lift the ball. The player whose nearest point of relief is in the fescue will be better off hitting the ball as it lies on the cart path. However, once he lifts the ball, if he then decides to replace it on the path, rather than drop in the unplayable fescue, he will incur a one-stroke penalty for lifting his ball in play.

Now let’s take a look at your question about a ball lying dead center in the middle of a cart path. This is an easy one. Without even viewing the situation, I can tell you that the nearest point of relief for a right-handed player will be on the left side of the path; the left-handed player will find his nearest relief on the right side. No doubt about it.

In order not to leave any stone unturned, let’s consider the situation of a right-handed player whose ball lies on the cart path closer to the right side of the path than the left. This is a situation where he may have to do some actual measuring. His nearest point of relief on the left side will be fairly close to the path, and his nearest point of relief on the right side will be a full stance away from the path. Since his ball lies nearer the right side of the path, his nearest point of relief may be on the left or the right, or the two spots (left and right) may be equidistant from the ball. If the distance is the same, he may choose one or the other. If the spot on one side is closer, he must drop there.

One more point: In determining the nearest point of relief, the player should use the club he would use to play the shot if there were no interference from the obstruction. In other words, if he would choose a pitching wedge to hit that shot, he should use a pitching wedge to determine where his stance would have to be to find complete relief. Once that spot is determined, he may use any club (usually his longest club) to measure the one-club area in which he will drop the ball.

Copyright © 2011 Linda Miller. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Ask Linda #291-Unfair handicap allowance?

Hi Linda,
I do not understand why the handicap allowance in four-ball (better ball) match play should be 3/4 of the difference between the player’s actual handicap and the handicap of the player with the lowest handicap.

Suppose you have one team (Team A) of two players (Player A and Player B) who both play off a 2 handicap, and another team (Team B) of players where one (Player C) has a handicap of 2 and the other (Player D) has a handicap of 14.

I have checked the website of the English Golf Union. If I understand the handicap allowance correctly, Team A (both players) and Player C will all, in effect, be playing off the same handicap, but player D will now be receiving only 9 shots, which is 3/4 of the difference between the lowest handicap (2) and their handicap (14). This hardly seems fair. What I am trying to do is find out why the handicap allowance is only 3/4 - how is it deemed fair (what is the math behind it all)?

Many thanks

Dear Lulu,

I checked the website of the English Golf Union, and your understanding is correct. For a four-ball (better ball) match play competition, they recommend that the player with the lowest handicap play at scratch and that the other three players receive ¾ of the difference between the lowest handicap player and their full handicaps. This does seem a bit harsh to me. Here in the United States, the USGA recommends for four-ball match play that the player with the lowest Course Handicap play at scratch, and that the other players receive 100% of the difference between their Course Handicap and that of the scratch player.

Perhaps your club pro or a representative from the Royal & Ancient can explain the motivation behind such a large handicap reduction. Any explanation I could give you from this side of the pond would be a guess, so I am afraid I am unable to explain or justify this policy for you.

Copyright © 2011 Linda Miller. All rights reserved.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Ask Linda #290b –Another question about #290

Hi Linda,
 Thank you for your response. I didn't read the small print right.
I actually meant rule 20-2c(iii) - pertaining to a ball rolling on green and stopping there.
Sorry for the misunderstanding.
I appreciate your hard work managing your very helpful site.
Best Regards,

Dear Lu,

Rule 20-2c(iii) states that a player is required to re-drop if his ball “rolls onto and comes to rest on a putting green.”

Here is an example of when this rule would be in effect:

Your ball is lying in casual water near the green. You find the nearest point of relief that is not on the putting green, and drop your ball within one club-length of that spot [Rule 25-1b(i)]. Your ball rolls onto the green. This is where 20-2c(iii) comes into play. You are required to re-drop your ball. If it again rolls onto the green, you will now place it where it hit the ground on your second drop.

In Ask Linda #290, the two-club-length relief from the lateral hazard was on the putting green. This is not a case where the player was required to drop off the green and the ball subsequently rolled onto the green. In this situation, the player was entitled to drop on the green.

Lou, I suspected you meant to question the relevance of (iii) rather than (ii). I decided to answer it as written because I felt it was a good opportunity to explain (ii).

Copyright © 2011 Linda Miller. All rights reserved.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Ask Linda #290a-Question about #290

With regard to Ask Linda #290-Relief from hazard on green?

What about rule 20-2c(ii)?

Wouldn't it apply in this case?

Lou Lou

Dear Lou Lou,

No. Rule 20-2c(ii) states that you must re-drop your ball if it “rolls out of and comes to rest outside a hazard.” It is talking about a situation where you are required to drop in the hazard (e.g., taking relief from casual water in a bunker). In that case, if you drop in the hazard and the ball rolls out of the hazard, you must re-drop.

In Ask Linda #290, the player is not dropping his ball in the hazard. He is dropping outside the hazard within two club-lengths and no closer to the hole. In this situation, if he drops his ball within the correct area outside the hazard (which happens to be on the putting green) and it rolls back into the hazard, he is required to re-drop [Rule 20-2c(i)].

Copyright © 2011 Linda Miller. All rights reserved.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Ask Linda #290-Relief from hazard on green?

Linda, on our course, there is a creek that runs very near a green.  The creek is marked a lateral water hazard.  Many players choose to take relief from this hazard using the "two-club length, no closer to the hole" guideline.  However, the two club-lengths can put you on the green.  Is this an OK relief option?
Thanks for any clarification you can give.

Dear Lulu,

Yes. The rule (26-1c) only requires that you drop within two club-lengths and not nearer the hole than where your ball last crossed the margin of the lateral hazard. There is no statement in the rule prohibiting you from dropping on a green or, for that matter, in a bunker.

The same would hold true for an unplayable ball. Suppose your ball settles against a tree trunk that is adjacent to a green. If you declare your ball unplayable, and there is area on the green that is within two club-lengths of your ball and is no closer to the hole, you are permitted to drop on the green.

Note that the rule is not the same when you are taking relief from abnormal ground conditions, such as casual water, ground under repair, or a hole made by a burrowing animal. If your ball happens to lie in an abnormal ground condition on the green, then the nearest point of relief may be on or off the green. If it lies in a bunker, your relief must be in the bunker in order for it to be free relief. If your ball lies “through the green” (anywhere on the golf course except the tee and green of the hole you are playing and all hazards on the course), then you may not drop your ball in a hazard or on a putting green. If your ball lies in an abnormal ground condition through the green and it rolls onto a putting green or into a hazard when you drop it, you will have to repeat your drop. These same restrictions also hold true when you are taking relief from an immovable obstruction.

Copyright © 2011 Linda Miller. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Limit on strokes per hole

Linda, I know the USGA rules don't deal with a limit on strokes per hole, but a number of leagues I am in do.  Either by league rules or course rules they have a limit to speed up play.
I wonder if you could address the equitable way to deal with this.
In a league where 2 points are given for the low net player, it doesn't seem fair that a player who had to pick up could still end up winning or tying for the 2 points. (Match play is easier, you just lose the hole).
This happened to me in a playoff for the league championship, when I had to take a maximum and pick up on one hole. I won by one stroke for low net, but I didn't think I should have. But our rules didn't make any exception for winning even though I surely would have had more strokes. I think that picking up should have disqualified me from winning any points. We do mark a 10X on our card to distinguish a 10 max from a regular 10.

Do you have any advice on how to deal with this issue that I am sure comes up in many other leagues?

Also, when leagues limit strokes, do you think it is better to have a maximum per hole, or have a rule that you pick up after so many strokes and place your ball on the green and putt out. (The problem with the latter we have found is it doesn't speed up play and it can cause arguments about where the ball should be placed on the green).

Now that we will all be starting our leagues soon, I hope you can give us your thoughts on this.


P.S. Love your emails, I always try to answer the question before I read your answer, and I must be learning as I am getting pretty good at coming up with the right answer.  Thanks!!

Dear Lulu,

This is not my area of expertise. However, I can see that you’re interested in my opinion, so I will try my best to offer you some useful suggestions.

Limiting strokes is a fine idea for leagues where the players have high handicaps. It helps with pace of play, as you mentioned, and that makes the round more enjoyable for everyone. No one should have to stand around and wait while another player hits 10 shots on a par 3. My recommendation would be to limit the strokes per hole to a maximum of double par (6 on a par 3, 8 on a par 4, and 10 on a par 5). When a player reaches the maximum and has not completed the hole, she should pick up and not hit again until she tees off on the next hole. I see no reason to allow this player to pick up and then place a ball on the green to putt. If she wants to practice putting, the place for that is the practice putting green.

Players will need to learn that the score they make during league play is not necessarily the same score they will post in their handicap record. They should keep a separate record for posting purposes on which they record their most likely score for any hole where they are required to pick up. Their most likely score must not be higher than their ESC score (“ESC” is the abbreviation for “Equitable Stroke Control”). You might better understand this if I offer an example.

Let’s look at Daisy, whose Course Handicap is 36. After 8 shots on a par 4 (double par), she is still 30 yards from the green. For league play, she will pick up and record an X-8. However, the number she will officially post for that hole is not 8. Remember, she did not finish the hole. First she must estimate her most likely score for that hole. That would add up to 11, assuming one chip and two putts. However, 11 is higher than her allowable ESC score. A player whose Course Handicap is 36 may not post higher than a 9 for any hole. When Daisy totals her score for posting purposes, she will count 9 on that hole.

I understand your discomfort at winning when you actually scored higher than another player but your league score was lower because you were required to pick up and record a set maximum score. I am going to try to make you feel better about that. There is a precedent for such scoring in golf. In a Stableford competition, each time your score on a hole is more than one over the fixed score, your score for the hole is 0. If the fixed score is par, then it doesn’t matter whether you score a double bogey or a quadruple bogey–your score is still 0. And if I may use an example from recreational baseball and softball, there are leagues where boys and girls have a limit on the number of runs they are permitted to score in an inning. If a team reaches that limit with bases loaded and no outs, those players have to come off the bases and take the field. It’s possible for them to lose that game because of this rule. You and your fellow competitors all know that the rules of your league require that you pick up after a certain maximum number of strokes. If you are all observing the same rules, then the competition, theoretically, is fair.

That being said, I will offer a suggestion for your league championship that might help guarantee that the player with the actual lowest net score is the winner. When you reach the maximum, instead of writing that maximum number with an X (you mentioned that you record X-10), record your most likely score with an X (X-13, for example). To avoid arguments, you might establish “official” most likely scores related to the distance remaining to get to the green. For example, you might decide that for all balls within 100 yards of the green, add 3 strokes; from 101 to 150 yards, add 4 strokes; over 150 yards, add 5 strokes.

I hope my suggestions will prove useful. Even if you don’t adopt them, they might help you formulate fair rules so that everyone in your league will be able to enjoy the competition.

Copyright © 2011 Linda Miller. All rights reserved.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Ask Linda #289-15th club on cart

Dear Linda,

Yesterday my friend borrowed his daughter's ride-on golf cart when playing golf.  After a few holes he discovered that she has a long tube on the cart where she parks her (extra long!) driver.  As he had 14 clubs in his bag, the question is: Does he get penalized for now realizing there are 15 clubs on the cart?  Lotsa discussion regarding this after the game, as you can imagine, so a ruling will be much appreciated!


Dear Lulu,

A player is not permitted to start a round with more than 14 clubs [Rule 4-4a]. Your friend started the round with 15 clubs. Since he discovered the 15th club after playing more than two holes, the penalty in stroke play is 4 strokes. He will have to add 2 strokes to his scores for the 1st and 2nd holes.

In match play, the state of the match will be adjusted by deducting two holes. For example, if your friend were 2 up on his opponent, the match would be all square; if he were 1 up, his opponent would now be 1 up.

If your friend had discovered the extra club before teeing off on the second hole, the penalty would be 2 strokes (stroke play), or a one-hole deduction in match play. (Note that in match play, if his opponent had won the first hole, he would now be 2 up, even though only one hole had been played.)

Here are a couple of similar situations to consider:

1. Two players have both begun the round with 14 clubs. On the third hole, Player A accidentally puts a club in Player B’s bag. B notices the extra club on the sixth hole. B returns the club to A. If B did not use A’s club, there is no penalty to either player. However, if B used A’s club by mistake, B will be penalized under Rule 4-4a.

2. If a player with 14 clubs finds another player’s club on the golf course, he may carry it in his bag until he drops it off at the pro shop. There is no penalty unless he uses the club.

Copyright © 2011 Linda Miller. All rights reserved.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Ask Linda #288-Is a putter a flagstick?

Good morning Linda,
I hope you are doing fine and that the weather is picking up again. I have another question for you.
On the putting green, the flagstick has been put aside on the apron. It is A’s turn to putt. To save time, A asks his fellow competitor B to indicate the position of the hole with his putter.
A putts and his ball touches B’s putter. B was distracted and did not remove his putter in time.

It may seems reasonable to say that the putter used to indicate the position of the hole has the same status as a flagstick, although the definition of a flagstick does not match the looks of a putter. This would result in a 2-stroke penalty for A (in stroke play).
It seems reasonable as well to say that the putter belongs to B’s equipment and thus A’s ball in motion is deflected by B’s equipment, Rule 19-4 which refers then to Rule 19-1b (deflected on the putting green by an outside agency), resulting in no penalty for both players.
What do you think? What would be the ruling in Match Play?

Looking forward to your opinion,
Kind regards,

Dear Lulu,
Decision 17-3/6 deals with this exact situation. When a putter is used to mark the position of the hole, it has the status of a flagstick. Therefore, if a player’s putt hits the putter that is serving as a flagstick, then in stroke play there is a two-stroke penalty and the ball must be played as it lies. In match play, the penalty is loss of hole [Rule 17-3].

This is a good opportunity to remind players that tending the flagstick is a serious responsibility. You must stand perfectly still and pay close attention until the ball is putted. As soon as the ball is in motion, it is best to remove the flagstick and walk away from the hole, always keeping an eye out for the moving ball. You also want to be careful not to tread on anyone else’s line of putt as you move away from the hole.

I am not fond of players who don’t remove the flagstick until the last possible second and who remain standing next to the hole as the putt goes by. It makes the person putting unnecessarily nervous, and it runs the risk of a penalty for the blameless person who trusted you to attend properly. It can also block the player’s view of how the putt breaks beyond the hole.

Copyright © 2011 Linda Miller. All rights reserved.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Ask Linda #287-Permission Trumps Prohibition

Dear Linda,
I would appreciate if you could help me in understanding Decision 13-4/39 correctly. Basically, I was doing some rules quiz from USGA website. One of the questions was pertaining to the above decision. Below is the question and the answer provided.

[Readers, Decision 13-4/39 deals with a match play situation in which Player B’s ball is on the green but farther from the hole than Player A’s ball, which is in a bunker. Player A hits his ball first, which means he has played out of turn. He rakes the bunker, and then Player B decides to recall Player A’s stroke, which means Player A will have to drop his ball in the bunker and hit the shot again. Ordinarily, a player would be penalized for raking the area where he will have to drop a ball. However, in this case there is no penalty to Player A for having raked the spot from which he will have to play his next shot, since his ball was outside the bunker and he was unaware that his stroke would be recalled.]

As per decision 13-4/39, if the player is unaware that his stroke would be recalled after he had raked the bunker, in equity, the player incurs no penalty. This is understandable.

Here is the question from the rules quiz, my answer, and the USGA response:
In match play, a player's ball lies in a bunker, while his opponent's ball lies on the green, but farther from the hole. The player plays out of turn and his ball comes to rest on the green. The opponent recalls the stroke and requires him to replay. Before dropping a ball, he rakes the bunker. What is the ruling?
My answer: There is a two-stroke penalty.
This answer is incorrect.
Correct answer: There is no penalty.
Explanation: Decision 13-4/39

Based on the Decision, it is my understanding that when the opponent recalls the stroke, the player is aware of the need to replay. If so, since the player rakes the bunker before dropping the ball, he would have breached rule 13-2 with respect to his next stroke. Hence, the player would incur a two-stroke penalty. Unfortunately, my answer was marked as incorrect.

Please comment on your understanding of the question and answer.

Thank you and best regards
Lou Lou

Dear Lou Lou,
I understand your confusion, Lou. In fact, I was so mystified by the apparent contradiction that I called the USGA to try to clarify the matter. The rules official I spoke to needed to consult a senior official before giving me an answer, so your question is an exceptionally challenging one.

The rules official told me about a popular saying at the Golf House in Far Hills, New Jersey: “Permission trumps prohibition.” I will explain.

Rule 13-4, Exception 2 gives a player permission to rake the hazard if he has hit his ball out of the hazard. The same rule prohibits a player from raking the sand if his next stroke will be hit from the area he just raked. These two statements would seem to contradict each other. However, since the player’s ball was outside the hazard when he smoothed the sand, permission trumps prohibition and he is permitted to tidy up.

It makes no difference whether the player was aware that he would have to play his next stroke from that same place in the bunker. The rule allows the player to smooth the sand in a bunker after his ball has been hit out of the bunker, and that is the rule that takes precedence.

Thank you, Lou, for starting me out on a path that led to the discovery of a very interesting and potentially useful ruling in match play.

Copyright © 2011 Linda Miller. All rights reserved.