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RULING MAN: In a recent tournament, I was playing a par 5 edged with an endless row of white stakes. I hit my tee shot right, directly in front of one set of O.B. stakes and to the left of another. I was in bounds, but also in an unplayable lie. I knew I was supposed to drop my ball in line with the flag, but that would have put me out of bounds (which seemed even more wrong). I felt like I was in white-stake prison with nowhere to drop my ball! My buddy told me I had to go back and hit my shot again with a penalty. What should I have done?
Cam Miller, New York, N.Y.
You're right that you can't drop your ball beyond the white stakes, but you're wrong that it was your only avenue of escape. Yes, Rule 28b forces you to keep your drop in line with the pin and your ball, but the Rules give you two more options. One is to proceed under Rule 28a and drop your ball where you took your previous shot but giving yourself the associated stroke-and-distance penalty is too harsh. Instead, follow Rule 28c, take a stroke and drop your ball within two club-lengths of your ball (but not necessarily in line with the pin), no nearer to the hole.
RULES ORACLE: I hit a ball into the rough and had to pick it up in order to identify it. It was my ball, but I noticed that there was a glob of mud stuck to one side. When I put it back down I decided to put the mud on the far side, so I wouldn't hit it at impact. I didn't clean my ball, but I couldn't shake a guilty feeling as I finished my round.
Mike Beucher, Princeton, N.J.
Don't worry, Mike, you're clean on this one. According to Decision 21/5, as long as you replaced your ball where you found it, you were completely entitled to rotate it however you wanted with one exception. If you had put the mud side face down to create a sort of natural tee, you would have been in violation of Rule 20-3a and subject to a one-stroke penalty. But since you kept it clean, you're in the clear.
RULES GUY: I hit a ball into the woods, just short of a string of O.B. markers down the right side of the fairway, while my opponent hit one even farther right and out of bounds. As he searched for his ball, I shanked my second shot and, to my horror, hit him in the leg, with the ball coming to rest out of bounds. Thankfully, he was all right, but I wasn't sure what to do. I felt that since I hit another player, I should be allowed to retake my shot, but he said my ball was O.B. I wasn't about to argue, so I took the penalty stroke. Was that right?
Emit Lackey, Burrsville, Md.
Even though you shanked your shot, you pured the ruling on this one. Decision 19-3/1 spells out exactly what to do in this situation. According to Rule 19-3, a ball in motion that is stopped or deflected by your opponent through the green can be canceled and replayed from the spot of the original stroke without penalty. Despite your buddy's complaints, the fact that he was out of bounds when he was struck does not change the fact that you get a mulligan. Cancel and replay your shot, then get your friend an ice pack.