Friday, December 20, 2013

Ask Linda #765-Lateral hazard ruling


My son was in a stroke play tournament. He hit a ball left towards a creek and 3 caddies and the other 2 players and my son said the ball was in the water hazard. A couple of them said they saw it go in, the others said they were pretty sure it went in. The ground just outside the hazard line was light rough.

My son proceeded to take a drop at the assumed point of entry. He hit the next shot that hit a tree and ended up in the rough. When looking for the ball he found his original ball. He played the ball that he dropped and the rules official said that that shot was 5 from the drop, a 4-stroke penalty because his original ball was found. He only hit the ball a total of 5 times and they gave him a 9. Very confused on how someone gets a 4-stoke penalty and he has only hit the ball once.

Lou from California

Dear Lou,

This is a difficult question to answer without knowing the terrain or why everyone believed the ball to be in the hazard. I can only offer general comments on the situation and the ruling.

In order to proceed under any of the relief options in Rule 26, a player must know or be virtually certain that his ball is in the hazard. [Please read Decision 26-1/1 for a detailed explanation of what is meant by “known or virtually certain.”] If two people claim they saw it go into the hazard, and the others are “pretty sure,” it would be hard to fault your son for believing his ball to be in the hazard and proceeding under 26-1c. Although you don’t mention it, I assume he took a few minutes to search the area for his ball. Since you state that the rough adjacent to the hazard was “light,” it is not unreasonable to assume that a ball not found at the estimated point of entry must be in the hazard.

I would think that if the Rules official interviewed the boys and their caddies and learned that there was agreement that the ball was in the hazard, he would allow play with the dropped ball to stand. However, he may have had reason to mistrust their judgment, or he may have decided that the area was such that a ball that was not found outside the hazard could not be assumed to be in the hazard. Bearing this in mind (and remembering that I do not have all the facts at hand), let’s take a look at the penalties.

1. If the official decides that the player was virtually certain that his ball was in the hazard, the player is entitled to invoke Rule 26-1. The only penalty is the one stroke that is assessed to a player when he takes relief for a ball in a water hazard. The fact that the original ball is later found outside the hazard does not change this ruling [Decision 26-1/3].

2. If the official decides that there was no virtual certainty that the ball was in the hazard (perhaps there are trees where a ball might have ricocheted, or dense patches of rough outside the hazard where the ball could be “hiding”), the player’s ball is lost. He is required to play another ball under stroke and distance. By dropping and playing a ball at the supposed point of entry into the hazard, your son played from a wrong place. Stroke and distance is a one-stroke penalty; playing from a wrong place is a two-stroke penalty. In addition, if playing from the wrong place gives the player a significant advantage (which it does if his previous shot was a considerable distance away), the player must play a second ball under the Rules before teeing off on the next hole. “Under the Rules” here means that the second ball must be played from the spot where he hit the ball towards the hazard.

In summary, if the official accepts “virtual certainty,” your son’s penalty is one stroke. If the official rules that the ball was lost, the penalty is three strokes, with a possible disqualification for gaining a significant advantage by playing from a wrong place.

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