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DEAR RULES GUY: During a recent tournament, my opponent took relief from a location where fire ants were present. There was no physical interference to his lie or stance due to a hole or mound. Is this a situation of free relief or should this have been an unplayable-lie ruling?
Brian, Simpsonville, S.C.
While you may be debating whether fire ants are dangerous, the USGA has already made up its mind. According to Decision 33-8/22, players who are faced with fire ants (or a fire ant hill that could be disturbed) are entitled to proceed under Decision 1-4/10, which allows the player to take a free drop within a club-length of the nearest point of relief from the danger, as long as it's no nearer to the hole. This Decision stands even if your local Committee has made no such ruling. It may seem odd that your opponent is as well protected from an ant hill as he is from alligators, but then again, you've probably never been bitten by a fire ant.
DEAR RULES GUY:
During a round in northern Nevada, my ball landed on a small patch of snow in a sand trap. Should I have been allowed to clean my ball and drop in the hazard without penalty?
Dale Derbidge, via e-mail
Although golf is a warm-weather sport, the Rules provide for even the chilliest conundrums. In this situation, it is left to the player to decide whether the snow should be treated as casual water or a loose impediment. If you know your Rules, you know that Rule 13-4c prohibits moving loose impediments in a hazard, so it makes sense here to claim the snow as casual water and proceed under Rule 25-1b. This way, not only can you drop the ball in the bunker (no nearer to the hole) without penalty, you can clean it before you do. Otherwise you'll just have to wait for it to thaw.