Monday, February 29, 2016

Back from Rules School at Valley Forge

Dear readers,

I’m back, and will resume posting tomorrow.

The workshop was very intense; the instructors were well prepared and injected enough occasional humor to lighten the load. Here’s hoping my future columns will be enriched by my newly acquired insights.

My workshop mates were a delightful group. I spent the breaks chatting with a Spanish journalist who reports on the four golf majors, a former LPGA player who won eight tournaments on tour (including a major), a greenkeeper from a world famous golf course, and a very charming Ask Linda subscriber from Virginia, as well as referees, handicap chairmen, tournament directors, and a few novices in the golf world. I couldn’t have ordered up a more congenial, involved group.

Thanks again.

Until tomorrow,

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Off to Rules School

Dear readers,

I’m leaving for Valley Forge, Pennsylvania tomorrow. I will be attending the PGA/USGA Rules of Golf Workshop that you so graciously funded (thanks again!). I am scheduled to return home to New Jersey on Monday evening.

No “Ask Linda” columns will be posted while I’m away (February 25-29). Please do not send me any new questions about the Rules until March 1.

Until then,

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Ask Linda #1259-Counting putts

Dear Linda,

One player got on the green on 2. She putted; unfortunately, the putt rolled off the green. She putted 2 more times and at the end of the hole, she reported only 2 putts. I said: “No. You have 3  putts.” I said 3, she said 2. Who is right? I will apologize if I am wrong but I would like to know what is the right way to count putts.

Thank you.
Lulu from Honolulu, Hawaii 

Dear Lulu,

There is no Rule about how to count putts. The Committee must decide whether to count all strokes that are made once the player has made her first stroke on the putting green, or to count only those strokes that a player makes while her ball is on the green. When the USGA counts putts in its Championships, once the player has made her first stroke on the putting green, all subsequent strokes are counted as putts, whether from on or off the putting green. The Committee needs to tell the players how it wants them to count putts; everyone needs to be on the same page.

Copyright © 2016 Linda Miller. All rights reserved.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Golf Vocabulary

Dear readers,

Some of you may notice that I occasionally edit your questions with regard to golf terminology. My purpose in doing this is to assure that your question is understood by every Lou and Lulu who reads it.

Don’t feel badly; you have lots of company. Certain terms are often misused (by golf commentators on television as well as the general public). I have listed three often-misused terms below that I find troublesome when I try to understand your questions.

Playing partner
This is a strange term that I find particularly confusing when I try to answer a reader’s question; I am never certain whether this so-called “playing partner” is the player’s actual partner or simply another person playing in the same group. I think we all know what a “partner” is – a player who is on your side, a member of your team. So what should we call the other players in our group that are not our actual partners?
• In singles match play there are two people competing: the player, and the player’s opponent. In match play formats where you have a partner, there are four people (two teams) competing: the player, his partner, and their two opponents (who are partners of each other).
• In stroke play, all players in the competition are called competitors. Any competitors playing in your group are your fellow competitors. And if the format is a team competition, one of those competitors is your partner.

What it is: Foursomes are a form of match play and stroke play in which a team of two people play one ball. This format is more commonly called “alternate shot.” Rule 29 explains the rules for foursomes.
What it is not: A foursome is not a group of four golfers playing together. I would suggest you call those players your “group.”

Through the green
This term refers to all areas of the course except: (1) the teeing ground and the putting green of the hole you are playing, and (2) all hazards (meaning water hazards and bunkers). Whenever I use this term in a column, I try to remember to define it, because I understand that many players find the term confusing.

I cannot emphasize enough the importance of studying (and memorizing) the Definitions in the front of the rulebook. Golf terminology is specific to the game; its meaning often differs from what you may be accustomed to in ordinary usage. Understanding the Rules of Golf relies on a thorough knowledge of the vocabulary of golf. You may have noticed, when you read a Rule, that a number of terms are written in italics. These italics are not for emphasis – they are there to remind you that the term is one that is defined in the Definitions section.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Ask Linda #1258–Ball marked on green moved by wind 2.19.16

Dear Linda,

In a recent tournament a fellow competitor marked his ball, lifted and replaced it on the putting green. He then moved away to view the line of putt at which point a gust of wind moved his ball further from the hole. He wasn't happy with the situation and wanted to move it back, as the ball-marker was still in place so he could accurately replace it.

I explained to him that under the rules, he was required to play the ball from it's new position and it was unfortunate this was further from the hole. After quite a heated argument, he asked me to show him in the rule book where it says he must play it from its new position.

I showed him the section in the definition of a “Ball in Play” which states: “A ball that has been marked but not lifted remains in play. A ball that has been marked, lifted and replaced is back in play whether or not the ball-marker has been removed.”

I then explained that as his ball was considered to be in play, if it had been moved by an outside agency (Rule 18-1) he must replace the ball back to it's original position, but as wind (and water) are not outside agencies, this does not apply.

Despite what I thought was a thorough and convincing explanation on my part, he still could not accept it and the rest of the fellow competitors were not convinced either.

Assuming I am correct in my interpretation of the rules, is there any way of making what seems to be a very simple situation easier to understand, rather than having to go through the convoluted process as I did without much success?


Gary Venning

Dear Lou,

What a great job of explaining you did! I couldn't have done it any better. You might want to print the following "Frequently Asked Question" from the USGA website ( and carry it in your bag. Here is the link for this FAQ:

Rules FAQ
Ball in Play Moved by Wind or Gravity

A player replaces his ball on the putting green and the ball is at rest. Without addressing the ball the player steps away to read his putt.

The ball moves either due to the wind or the slope of the putting green. How should the player proceed?

The player must play his ball from the new position without penalty.

If the ball was moved into the hole then the player is deemed to have holed out with his previous stroke (Decision 20-3d/1).

Note: It is not relevant whether the player had removed his ball-marker before the ball was moved by the wind or gravity as the player's ball was in play when it was replaced (Rule 20-4).

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Ask Linda #1257a-Lou’s response to #1257

Dear readers,

I received a response from yesterday’s Lou after I sent him the answer to his question about what relief options a player has after he hits a ball from a water hazard and fails to get it out. I would like to share it with you:

Thanks, Linda, for that very clear and comprehensive response – a reminder once again that it pays to read the rules carefully. Rule 28 states very clearly that you can’t declare a ball in a water hazard unplayable, yet I’m sure many experienced golfers (including, in this case, myself) are unaware of that rule. I’ll be sure and spend some time with the rules book before the next tournament. It’s surprising how often a rules question occurs, and I’m sure your advice over the years has done a great deal to alleviate the level of rules ignorance among the golfing masses (and thereby speed the pace of play).

Speaking of pace of play, the only unfortunate outcome of abiding by the rules in this instance is that, given the yellow stakes, in order to take relief, the player would have needed to return to the tee box, thus adding a good five minutes to the time required to play the hole, it being a large pond. But the rules are the rules.

Lou from Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Ask Linda #1257-Relief options after failure to get ball out of hazard

Dear Linda:

Today we were a group of four: Leroy, Larry, Llewellyn and Lou (myself).

The left edge of the fairway on par 3 hole #13 is punctuated by a significant pond favoured by mallards and demarcated by yellow stakes.

Llewellyn’s turn at the tee was marred by a pulled shot that crossed the pond and landed in deep grass on the bank beyond, still inside the yellow stakes.

Llewellyn, thinking he might be able to locate his ball and have a shot, pondered hitting a provisional but was reminded by Leroy and Larry that if he were to do so, the provisional ball would become the ball in play and the ball in the hazard would be considered abandoned, so that after hitting the provisional, Llewellyn would be lying three.

Armed with this information, Llewellyn walked around the pond, located his ball, and swung at it, effecting approximately one yard’s progress of the ball within the hazard. A subsequent swing yielded a similar disappointing result, so that he was now lying three and pondering the wisdom of his decision to attempt to play the ball out of the hazard. 

The question for you is this. What were Llewellyn’s options after completing two unsuccessful swings within the hazard?

Presumably he could have declared his ball unplayable and dropped it within two club-lengths within the hazard, thus presenting himself (and his fellow competitors) with the possibility of repeated unsuccessful swings at his ball until terminated by dusk or, in a few decades, decease of the player. Did any of his options include dropping and playing his ball outside the hazard? If not, what escape do the rules afford?

And would it have made any difference if the hazard had been marked by red stakes, rather than yellow stakes?

And if he had hit his ball from the bank (inside the yellow stakes) into the pond in the bowels of the hazard, what would his options be then?

Yours curiously,
Lou from Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

Dear Lou,

This is an excellent question, Lou, with an answer that will be less complicated than you might think. Tuck this answer away in a safe corner of your brain – it will save you strokes in the future.

All of the following relief options include a one-stroke penalty, and all of them will get the player out of the hazard (see illustration and explanation at the bottom):

1. When a player chooses to play his ball that lies in a water hazard, and his stroke (or strokes) fails to get the ball out of the hazard, he may play a ball from the spot where he made his last stroke outside the hazard [Rule 26-2 (i)].

2. Alternately, he may take relief under Rule 26-1b, dropping out of the hazard on the line-of-sight to the hole, using as his reference point the spot where his original ball last crossed the margin of the hazard [Rule 26-2 (ii)].

3. If the hazard is a lateral water hazard (marked with red stakes), he may take relief under Rule 26-1c (the two-club-length option on either side of the hazard – please read the Rule for specifics). As in #2 above, his reference point will be the spot where his original ball last crossed the margin of the lateral water hazard [Rule 26-2 (ii)].

Count the tee shot into the hazard, all subsequent shots inside the hazard, and the penalty stroke that allows the player to take relief outside the hazard.

The player may not deem his ball unplayable when it lies in a water hazard [Rule 28]. The only relief options for a ball in a water hazard are those listed in Rule 26-1.

Copyright © 2016 Linda Miller. All rights reserved.

Check out the drawing and explanation below:

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Ask Linda #1256-Information about the Rules

Good morning Linda,

Recently I was playing in a group where two of the players were in a match competition. At one point, one player’s ball came to rest up against a tree trunk. As he was not familiar with the Rules, he asked what his options were. As I proceeded to explain his unplayable options, his fellow-competitor asked me to stop, as he believed I was giving advice.

Was I giving advice or was I giving information?

Thank you,
Lou from Toronto, Canada

Dear Lou,

Information about the Rules of Golf is not advice [Definition of “Advice”]. Telling another player his options under the Unplayable Rule is not advice unless you go one step further and suggest which option he should choose.

You may explain any Rule to any player at any time. I find myself doing so quite often. I also make a special effort to warn a player who is about to infringe a Rule, as should everyone. What better way to make a friend on a golf course than saving him from a penalty of which he was unaware.

Copyright © 2016 Linda Miller. All rights reserved.