Ask the Rules Guy: Mucked-up balls and bummed bosses

Photo: Jason Raish

• Got a Rules question? Zip it to

DEAR RULES GUY: My ball landed on the edge of a sloped green. After cleaning and trying to replace it, the ball kept rolling downhill toward the hole. Moving it 'no nearer to the hole' would have put me off the green, which seems unfair. Is my status on the green protected?
—Bob W., via e-mail

Unlike ambassadors, your ball has no diplomatic immunity on the green. According to Rule 20-3d, a ball that won't stay put after you attempt to replace it twice should be placed in a spot as close as possible to the original resting place and no nearer to the hole. If the only place your ball will stay put is on the fringe, that's where you're stuck. Remember, sometimes it's better to have a mucked-up ball.

DEAR RULES GUY: During match play with an employee (who had no sense of etiquette), our shots ended up very close, with his on the cart path. As I was in my next backswing, he dropped his ball. It accidently hit the path again, causing the ball to bounce my way and me to completely mis-hit my shot. My employee told me I could retake it, and I did, but now I feel like I may have broken a Rule. Absolve me of my guilt, or lay down my punishment.
—Pierce N. , Philadelphia, Pa.

Impatience on the golf course can lead to a lot of things, but more often than not it leads to extra strokes. While it may have seemed perfectly logical to just retake your shot to make up for the unwanted distraction, wishing won't make your previous shot go away. According to Decision 1-4/1, such distractions, even caused by an opponent, are considered a "common occurrence." And, as you now know, an obnoxious opponent is an extremely common occurrence. In this case, listening to your employee cost you the hole. You just can't find good help these days...

DEAR RULES GUY: During a casual round with my regular foursome, my friend marked his ball on the green so I could take my putt. Rather than pick his ball up he simply pushed it safely to the side. We got distracted and he forgot he had moved it. He took his putt from the new spot, sinking it. When he realized what he had done, he retook his putt from the original spot, but we didn't assess him a penalty, figuring it was a 'No harm, no foul' situation. Were we right?
—Jordan Atkins, Cincinnati, Ohio

While there are plenty of four-letter words that don't belong on the golf course, "No harm, no foul" is the four-word phrase that the Rules Guy just can't stand. When your buddy putted from the new spot, it may not have seemed like a big deal, but it was a violation of the Rules. Decision 15/4 states that he played a wrong ball, as the ball was out of play after he marked and moved it. He should have taken a two-stroke penalty and played his ball from the original mark. In other words, "No harm, big foul."

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