Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Ask Linda #1343-Player fails to identify ball opponent claims is his

Dear Linda,
Maybe you can help me with this ruling.

I am an assistant at a golf course in Oregon and am also the Tournament Chairman for our Men's Club.

I was golfing with a couple of guys in our Men's Club group who were playing the Championship Match for our President's Cup event (match play). A strange situation came up between them as we were playing.

The first player, Dave, hit his tee shot, which sailed slightly right and across the cart path but we could see the area where it landed pretty good. The second player, Jim, then hit his tee shot in the same area but we could see that it did not go as far and stopped shorter than Dave's tee shot. Dave was in a cart and drove up to begin the search while Jim and myself made our way up there (we were walking that day). Dave said that he had found his ball, which we knew was further than Jim's, and so we all started searching for Jim's ball a short distance further back from the ball Dave had found. This next part is important......At one point during the search, Jim walked up to the ball Dave had found and replied, "Oh, here's a ball", at which point Dave responded by saying "No, that's mine that I already found." We were unable to locate Jim's ball so he went back to the tee and put another ball in play. After Jim hit put his new ball in play I walked up to the area just ahead of where Dave had found "his" ball and spotted another ball. I looked at the ball and said, "It has three dots on it." Dave then said, "So does mine." Then Dave looked closer at the ball he found and realized it wasn't actually his; that ball was Jim's and the ball I found was actually Dave's. Both players just happen to mark their ball with three dots. We had not looked ahead of the ball that Dave had found because we could see from the tee that Jim's had not traveled as far as Dave's, which we were correct about.

So here are the facts:
1- Both players marked their ball with the same three dots.
2- Jim actually did find his ball, but before he could identify it, Dave responded that it was his ball and not Jim's (this was not intentional on Dave's part to fool Jim.)
3- Jim probably would have been able to identify the ball Dave found if Dave had not told him that it was not Jim's.
4- It was not past the five minute search limit when Jim saw the ball that Dave had found and claimed was his.
5- Jim had put another ball in play after we believed that his ball was lost due to his competitor, Dave, misidentifying his own ball.
6- Neither play ever made a stroke at the wrong ball (unless you count the ball that Jim put in play after thinking his first ball was lost).

I am curious to what the ruling on this should be. This was a match play event, but I would also like to know what the stroke play ruling would be (if different).

Knowing both of these players well, I am 100% sure there was no ill-intent on Dave's part when he told Jim it wasn't Jim's ball. I feel it was probably ultimately Jim's fault for not looking at the ball Dave found and correcting Dave about the mistake, but when a fellow player tells you it's his ball and verbally "denies" you the opportunity to make the proper identification, as Dave did, because you don't believe he'd "trick" you, then what is the proper action?

The outcome of this was that Dave apologized when he realized his mistake had caused the confusion and allowed Jim to play his ball and then Dave played his (Jim won the hole and ultimately the match.)

Please reply if you can come up with an answer for me.

Thank You,
Lou from Oregon

Dear Lou,

Let’s get right to the heart of the matter. Jim had every opportunity to identify his ball. Dave stating that the ball was his does not change that fact. Considering that both players used identical markings on their balls, there was all the more reason for Jim to take a look at the ball Dave thought was his. (I feel compelled to add that both players should have known their markings were identical, and one of them should have taken the precaution to change his identifying mark back on the first tee.)

When Jim went back to the tee and played another ball under stroke and distance, that ball became the ball in play and the original was lost [Definition of “Lost Ball”]. When he abandoned his ball in play and played the original ball, he played a wrong ball and, in match play, he lost the hole [Rule 15-3a]. However, since neither the players nor their marker were aware that a Rule had been breached, and no claim was filed, the result of the hole stands.

In stroke play, the player incurs a one-stroke penalty for lifting his ball in play (the second ball he hit from the tee), and an additional two-stroke penalty for hitting a wrong ball [Rule 15-3b; Decision 15/5]. He must correct his mistake by replacing and continuing play with the correct ball (the second ball he hit from the tee). If he does not correct the mistake before teeing off on the next hole, he is disqualified. None of the strokes made with the wrong ball will count in his score.

By coincidence, I competed in the finals of my club’s President’s Cup (match play) last week. On the first tee, I asked the other two players (my opponent and an additional player serving as marker) to identify their balls. My ball was the same brand as the marker’s, so we reviewed our markings (which were different) and I suggested that we be very careful during the round to make sure the ball we were about to hit was ours. My opponent’s ball was a different color and unmarked. I encouraged her to mark it (which she did), reminding her that while there would be no confusion with my ball (which was white), she might encounter an unmarked stray ball of the same brand, color, and number out on the golf course and would be unable to distinguish her own from the stray. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

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