January - 2017
In my ten plus years of officiating tournament golf, some at the very highest level of competition, the rule that I have found that creates more penalties than any other is the subject of this commentary. If you want to learn the rules of golf, if you read the club’s website consistently, and especially the section on the rule of the month, then stay tuned for the next two months as I address why the rule creates such confusion, and, more importantly, how you can avoid the penalties that so many others incur.
The old principle upon which golf is predicated is that you tee your ball, you play only your ball into the hole, and you never touch your ball with your hands until it is holed. However, that principle is modified when something occurs on the course because the course is typically composed of non-golf related obstructions, ground conditions that don’t permit fair play, or because your ball is consumed by a nasty hazard and is now no longer retrievable. When our ball is the subject of any of these conditions, we then get to touch the ball (original ball), if we can retrieve it, or we then get to touch a new ball (substituted ball). In either case, to put the ball back in play, we have to either place or drop the ball.
Rule 20-2(c)(vii) actually has 3 subparts to it designed to assist the golfer in understanding when a drop should be cancelled and another drop taken, but these 3 subparts are often overlooked. All too often I have seen a golfer take relief, find the proper spot from which relief is to be referenced, drop the ball properly, and then pick up the ball, a ball that was then in play, simply because when the ball hit the ground and it then rolled towards the hole……not so fast my fellow competitor!
Let’s look at the first subpart of the rule, subpart (a), “rolls and comes to rest nearer the hole than its original position or estimated position unless otherwise permitted by the Rules:”
This subpart applies for a ball hit and now lost, a ball hit and now out of bounds, or a ball that was at rest and then subsequently moved by an outside agency and the exact spot is not known but is then estimated. In other words……….the operative word for this part of the rule is the word “THAN.” Giving that word context, closer than. Closer than what? For a lost ball, for a ball hit out of bounds, for a ball that’s moved by a dog, another ball, a golf cart, a fellow competitor who actually hit it, the than, if you will, is the ball’s original location before it was moved by that outside agency, or, it’s estimated location on the course. So, if you’re dropping the ball because the ball is lost, OB, or has been moved and needs to be put back near an estimated place on the course, your reference point is the exact spot from which you last hit the ball, or the spot you have estimated the ball had been before it was moved. In all likelihood you can precisely determine the spot from where you last hit your ball. Hence, if you hit it OB and reload by dropping a substituted ball and the ball hits the ground no nearer the hole than from the spot from which you hit the original ball OB and it rolls nearer the hole, BUT NOT NEARER THE HOLE THAN THE SPOT FROM WHICH YOU HIT THE ORIGINAL BALL, that ball is in play….DON’T TOUCH IT EXCEPT TO HIT IT WITH YOUR CLUB, and for Petey sakes, keep this one on the course.
One note: If you actually knew where your ball was before it was moved by that dog, another ball, that golf cart, the fellow competitor who actually hit it, THEN you get to PLACE THE BALL, and not drop the ball on the spot upon which you knew your ball rested. This rule we’re discussing this month and the next two months, therefore, would not apply. Rule 20-3(a) would, instead, apply. Hope this helps your understanding a bit more.
More next month.