I hit a tee shot into the deep rough and around a blind corner on a long par 4. I found my ball relatively easily, and walked up a few feet to get a better look at the green. On my way back to the ball, however, I lost my place for a minute and ended up kicking it from the ball’s place in the rough. Not only did the ball end up about 5 feet away, but the grass where it had been was pretty well mangled by my spikes. I wasn’t sure what to do, so I followed my instincts, thinking that since my original lie was messed up, there was no reason to replace the ball where it had landed, so I simply played it from where it ended up after my foot wedge and took a one-stroke penalty. Did I get it right or did my instincts fail me?
--H. Danke, New York, NY
Most of the time, confused golfers can figure out the right thing to do by following their instincts. In your case, however, it might be time to consider trading in your instincts for a copy of the Rules of Golf. After kicking your ball away, you were correct in thinking that you didn’t have to place it in exactly the same spot, but that didn’t mean that you could just drop it wherever you wanted. Under Rule 23-b, you should have dropped your ball no further than one club-length away from its original location, and in the most similar lie possible. By dropping them ball where it ended up (well more than a club-length away), you were in breach of both Rule 23-b and Rule 18 (which deals with properly replacing a ball after accidently moving it). The punishment is about as severe as they come: two strokes or the loss of the hole in Match Play (Decision 18-2a/21.3). Can you kick it?