Ask the Rules Guy: Flying divots and swapping balls

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DEAR RULES GUY: My partner took a practice swing and dug up a huge divot that stuck to the clubface, but on his follow-through the divot fell off and landed on his ball. The ball didn't appear to move. Should he have been penalized?
Ian Lev, via e-mail

According to Rule 18-2a, if a ball in play is moved by the player, then the ball should be returned to its original position along with a one-stroke penalty. But the definition of 'move' refers to a ball that leaves its original position and comes to rest in another place. Because it appears that your friend's ball did not move, he should carefully remove the sod (a loose impediment) and play the ball as it lies without penalty. Then he should apologize to Mother Earth.

DEAR RULES GUY: As we arrived at the 15th tee, my buddy and I looked at our balls and suddenly realized that we had somehow switched them on the last hole. We guessed that I had holed out with his ball and he had holed out with mine, but we weren't really sure. Should we have both been penalized for holing out with a wrong ball?
David Mallernee, Chicago, Ill.

If there were a rule for keeping your eye on the ball, you'd be DQ'd and your softball coach would be notified. But believe it or not, the Rules of Golf actually have empathy for your situation. According to Decision 15-½, if it cannot be determined that you switched balls during play of a hole, both of you are given the benefit of the doubt. The Rules treat the situation as though you inadvertently switched balls between play of two holes, in which case no penalty is imposed. So you got away with one, but Rules Guy has his eye on you, Buster.

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