Ask the Rules Guy: Separation anxiety, a righteous path and raising the bar

Photo: Jason Raish

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Dear Rules Guy: When I was at the top of my backswing, the head of my driver snapped off and went flying behind me. I actually finished my swing, completely missing the ball with what was left of my club. My entire foursome had different takes: One guy said the stroke counted, one said that it didn't, and one said I should take a penalty for using an altered club. I figure one of them had to be right, but which one?
— Jim Durcey, via e-mail

Only one of your friends hit the nail on the (missing) head. The sticking point here is the actual definition of a stroke, which is "the forward movement of the club" toward the ball. Decision 14/2 states that a shaft in and of itself is not a golf club, meaning that your whiff would not have counted toward your score. If your club had broken a little later it would have been a different story. When a player's club breaks on the downswing and he does not stop the swing short of the ball, Decision 14/3 says that's a stroke, regardless of how far away your clubhead is at the time.

Hey Rules Man: My ball was sitting on an obvious cart path that was part of a naturally sandy area. The cart path was clear, but was formed in the sand/dirt rather than cement, so it was not artificial. Was I entitled to drop off of the path?
— Kerwin Rucker, West Palm Beach, Fla.

While most golfers are aware that they get relief from cart paths, they may not know why: Cart paths are considered immovable obstructions. Under Rule 24-2, this "natural" path is not an obstruction at all, so you would have to play the ball as it lies. If you find the ground there too rough, you may deem the ball unplayable and proceed with a one-stroke penalty under Rule 28. It's not a perfect solution, but at least it will get you off the beaten path.

Rules Resolver: On the first tee, one of my buddies' bags looked like it had one too many clubs in it. When he pulled the "extra" one out, it wasn't a club at all, but a bar that he then proceeded to use for stretching. He did the same thing on each hole, essentially simulating a driver swing with his body (turning back and forth with the bar on his shoulders). I told him this was definitely a violation against the rule on artificial devices, but he said that he knew for a fact that stretching devices were allowed. Is he right?
— G. Tremillo, via e-mail

It may seem like your case is airtight, but your argument is actually a bit of a stretch. The bylaw that popped into your head was likely Rule 14-3a, and you're correct that it prohibits players from using artificial devices or unusual equipment. But there are exceptions to every rule. According to 14-3/10.5, stretching devices are acceptable, as long as they aren't used during the actual golf swing. Bars like the one your buddy used are specifically mentioned in this Decision, so there's no two ways about it. Next time, try not to get so wound up.

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