Ask The Rules Guy: Can I Hit An Oscillating Ball?
Rules Guy: My group was first out after a short frost delay, and it was so cold that the greens were like ice rinks. Before hitting an approach, I went up and tapped my putter on the green. My opponent said I lost the hole because I "tested the surface" before I hit my shot. Is this guy right?
—Ken Heidelberger, Peachtree Corners, Ga.
Figure-skating is my second-favorite sport. So many rules! (Jim Furyk should be glad that golf doesn't deduct from your score for technical mistakes.) Per Rule 16-1d, testing any green by "rolling a ball or roughening or scraping the surface" is a no-no, punishable by two strokes or a loss of hole in match play. However, because you used your putter to tap, not scrape, the surface—and you didn't roll your ball—you skate away scot-free.
Rules Man: There's a hole on my course with out of bounds on the left and a lateral water hazard just beyond OB. I sliced my drive over the white markers and into the water. Is my drive considered OB, since it crossed the white stakes first? Or is it simply played as having entered the lateral water hazard?
—Mike Davis, Crestview, Fla.
That's one hazardous hole. OB, water, then…a moat of crocodiles ringing the green? As to your question, the USGA defines "out of bounds" as a ball that lies entirely out of bounds. When your ball comes to rest in a water hazard, it's exactly that: in the hazard, not out of bounds. If your ball takes aerial photos of the OB area before landing elsewhere on the course, all that matters is where your ball lies. And in this case, it lies beneath.
Rules Dude: I entered a greenside bunker and placed my putter down next to me, in the trap, before hitting my sand shot. My competitor called me out for grounding my club in a hazard. I feel that I did nothing wrong, because I wasn't using my putter for the shot. What's your call?
—Tony Griffin, Parker, Colo.
Breathe easy, Tony. While Rule 13-4 forbids grounding your club at address in a hazard (to the tune of a two-stroke penalty in stroke play), Exception 1 lets you place clubs in a hazard without punishment, as long as you do nothing that improves your lie or constitutes testing the hazard condition.
Hey Rules Man: My ball was perched on a tuft of grass. As I prepared to make a stroke, I noticed it was oscillating, but I hit it anyway. Am I in the clear?
—John Formy-Duval, Durham, N.C.
Have you considered a career as a golf trick-shot artist? There's no penalty for making a stroke at an oscillating ball. Decision 14-5/2 clarifies that oscillation is not "movement," so give your guilty conscience a reprieve on this one.