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.

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