Monday, March 21, 2016

Ask Linda #1271-Play second ball when unsure of procedure

Dear Linda,
I appreciate very much what you do and how you do it to improve the knowledge of our rules and to spread the spirit of our game!
Here is my case.

My fellow competitor’s tee shot came to rest on a narrow footpath beside the fairway. Thinking he could take relief from an immovable obstruction, he lifted his ball and dropped it correctly aside the footpath.
When I reached him and asked whether he was sure that the path was an obstruction, doubts arose and he felt uncertain about what to do next to minimize risk of penalties.
We knew that if relief was not permitted, he would have been given two penalty strokes for failing to replace a moved ball and for playing from a wrong place (total penalty of two strokes).
Still, we did not agree on what if he played a second ball according to Rule 3-3.
He stated that he could avoid whatever penalty by replacing a second ball on the footpath and selecting the original to count, if permitted.
My opinion was different: Rule 3-3 could not be invoked since he lifted and dropped the ball before. A second ball would have only served to avoid any doubt of committing a serious breach in case relief was not permitted.
Who is right?
Lou from Milan, Italy

Dear Lou,

Hmmm… This is a tricky question. If a player wishes to play two balls under Rule 3-3, he must make that decision after the doubtful situation arises and before he takes further action [Rule 3-3a]. So the question becomes: What constitutes “further action?”

(For the answer to this question, I consulted a highly-placed official in the R&A. I wanted to be certain the answer I gave you was correct.)

Dropping a ball does not constitute taking further action. This is mentioned in Rule 3-3 itself, as well as in several Decisions. Since the player has not made a stroke at the original ball, he is entitled to invoke Rule 3-3. He should inform his fellow competitor that he is unsure of his rights and will play two balls. He should state which ball he wishes to count, and he must report the facts to the Committee before he returns his scorecard. (If he fails to report to the Committee, he is disqualified).

In the situation you describe, the fellow competitor would place another ball at the spot where the original ball came to rest on the path, play out the hole with both the ball on the path and the dropped ball, and report to the Committee for their decision as to which ball counts. If the Committee decides that the footpath is an immovable obstruction, the ball the player dropped would be ruled to count. If, on the other hand, the footpath is deemed an integral part of the course (not an immovable obstruction), the ball played from the footpath would be ruled to count, and the player would incur a on-stroke penalty under Rule 18-2 for having moved his ball in play.

None of the strokes played with the ball ruled not to count would be included in the player’s score. And if he had tried to invoke Rule 3-3 after hitting the ball that he dropped away from the footpath, there would be no penalty for playing two balls, even though the option to invoke Rule 3-3 was no longer available once “further action” (hitting the ball) was taken.

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