Ask the Rules Guy: Gator bait, costly divots and mirrors
Dear Rules Guy: I hit a tee shot that landed a couple of inches inside a water hazard. It was playable, but as I made my way to my ball, an alligator came along and ate it! I guess technically the ball wasn't lost, but I was not going to argue with the alligator. I asked at the pro shop what the rule was and was told, tongue in cheek, that it was a one-stroke penalty for the alligator. What is the actual rule?
-- Bob Steeves, Glen Haven, Nova Scotia
Losing only a ball in this case is a win for you. Fortunately, Rule 19-1 (ball at rest moved by an outside agency) allows you to take a free drop as near as possible to the original spot of the ball, no closer to the hole. If your scaly friend doesn't feel like moving after his lunch, find your nearest point of relief from the danger and drop there.
MIRROR MIRROR Dear Rules Guy: My opponent and I hit nearly identical drives on one hole. When we got to our balls, we found them on the side of a hill, with his ball resting nearly on top of mine! I suggested that I mark my ball, let him hit first, and then replace my ball and hit my shot. Was this correct? And would the ruling be any different if the balls had been inside a lateral hazard but still playable?
-- Bryan Helyer, Glastonbury, Conn.
You don't need my help, pal! You hit the correct mark under Rule 22-2, regardless of where the ball lies on the course. Be careful, though. If you had lifted your ball without your fellow competitor's permission, you would have earned a one-stroke penalty for moving a ball at rest (Rule 18-2a). The next time you look to mirror your partner, make sure to leave a little more room between your shots.
COSTLY DIVOT Hey Rules Guy: I was playing with some friends in wet conditions in which we were allowed to lift and clean our balls. On the ninth hole, before I got to my ball, I took a practice swing about 10 feet behind it. However, I accidentally hit a nearby unearthed divot, which flew up and hit my ball. I replaced the ball, then lifted it, cleaned it and played on. My scoring partner gave me a one-shot penalty. Is there a penalty or not?
-- Pierre van der Watt, South Africa
That's a new way to lay the sod over your ball. While you were right to replace your ball after it moved and had every right to lift and clean it under those circumstances, your friend was also right to hit you with a penalty. According to Decision 18-2a/20.5, a ball moved by a loose impediment struck during a practice swing is understood to be caused by the player, a breach of Rule 18-2a. And that says it's reasonably foreseeable that a practice swing will move loose impediments that could make your ball move -- so it's your fault. Next time be sure to steer clear of those loose impediments and you won't get your hands, or your scorecard, dirty.