Ask the Rules Guy: Exposed hole liners and disruptive singles

Photo: Jason Raish

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DEAR RULES GUY: I lined up my putt on 18 and stroked it true, but at the last instant my ball popped up in the air and stopped dead. The culprit was none other than the hole liner, which some maintenance guy hadn't pushed all the way down. Even though I was a hundred percent sure that the ball would have dropped, I knew I couldn't just write down my par, so I decided to re-putt from the same spot. I made the putt but left unsatisfied, because I felt like I wrote down a false score. Am I guilty of score fraud?
—Tom D., via e-mail

Golf, like marriage, is often about living with the consequences of stuff that isn't your fault. You were correct to assume that your original putt could not be counted as holed, no matter how sure you were that it was going in. Your compromise of putting the ball from the same spot again, while it may have seemed a fair option, is not supported by the Rules. You should have played the ball from where it came to rest and alerted the course to the wayward liner. As it stands, count the two putts and add two penalty strokes for playing the ball from the wrong spot (Rule 16-1b).

DEAR RULES GUY: A single was added to my threesome during a casual round. On the 7th hole, he and I both hit our approach shots left of the green and toward some bushes. He arrived at the green first and proceeded to pitch on, while I searched for my ball. After a few minutes, I declared my ball 'lost,' dropped and took a 2-stroke penalty. On the next hole, I discovered that he had been playing the ball I had previously declared as lost. What is the ruling here?
—David Coe, Highlands Ranch, Colo.

According to Decision 27/6, the offending player should have taken a 2-stroke penalty for playing the wrong ball and played his original ball from where it actually landed. Furthermore, if he played his tee shot from the next hole (in a competitive round), he should have immediately disqualified himself. Unfortunately, his error doesn't give you a free ride. As your original ball was lost, you incur a 1-stroke penalty under Rule 27-1c. If you dropped a ball where the original ball was lost, add two more strokes for playing from a wrong place, and if your error was serious, you're disqualified unless you correct it.

DEAR RULES GUY: I chipped my ball onto a green and it stopped about 8 feet from the cup. My buddy topped his and it was headed for the drink when his ball hit mine dead center. Both balls ended up about 12 inches from the cup. He maintained that I had to replace my ball back where it had been, and that he could putt from 12 inches with no penalty. Am I really penalized for saving his shot from the water?
—Michael MacChesney, Fresno, Calif.

This proves Rules Guy's favorite maxim: no good turn goes unstoned. Rule 18-1 is clear that your ball, having been moved by an outside agency, should be replaced without penalty—though in your mind that's penalty enough. To add insult to injury, your partner is free to play his ball where it came to rest. For future reference, you have the right to lift your ball if you think it will assist another player, even if he's not on the green yet. But don't blame me if he complains about the dash you make to the green before every one of his chips.

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