Ask the Rules Guy: Split balls and flag obstructions

Wednesday November 17th, 2010
Jason Raish

• Got a Rules question? Zip it to rulesguy@golf.com

\nDEAR RULES REVELER: After my friend hit a shot from the fairway, the ball split in two mid-flight and the two halves ended up in different locations. He felt that he should get to replay his stroke without penalty, but I thought he should play a new ball from the spot where the largest piece landed. He gave in, but he wasn't happy about it. Who was right?
— S. Hurwitz, via e-mail

In this split decision, you come out on the losing end. According to Rule 5-3 (which deals with the so-called "fitness" of golf balls), a stroke that results in a split or shattered ball should be replayed as close as possible to the spot of the original stroke without penalty. You owe your buddy an apology — start by buying him a few Pro V1s to replace the gutta-perchas he's apparently lugging around.

\nDEAR RULES GUY: Recently, I was hitting my third shot into a long par-4. I hit a line drive that took a high hop off the green and got wrapped up in the flag. But instead of dropping down to the green, the ball just stayed wrapped up, essentially tied to the pin. Neither of us had any idea what the Rule was on this, so my playing partner wiggled the stick a little bit to release the ball from the flag. As soon as he did this, the ball dropped straight down into the cup, so I took a birdie. Did I do the right thing?
— Don Laviolette Martinez, Calif.

As a general rule, any time you include the word "wiggle" in a question, you've probably violated one of the Rules. According to Decision 17/6, the flag is treated as a movable obstruction, which means that you get free relief. Unfortunately, free relief doesn't mean that you get to just put the ball in the hole. Instead, you have to place the ball on the lip of the cup (but not so close that it can roll in). You can call it a gimme, but don't call it a birdie — it should have been a par.

\nRULES GUY: The second shots of me and a friend came to rest in the fairway separated by less than three inches. Neither of us could play our ball without hitting/moving the other ball. What we did is probably wrong, but he marked his ball, I hit my shot, and he replaced his ball.
— Larry Staha, Stafford, Texas

The Rules of Golf are often so confusing that they convince players not to trust their instincts. On the whole, this is good advice, as most golfers' instincts about the Rules are as off the mark as their drives. In this case, however, you were right on the money. Rule 22-2 gives players the right to lift and mark their balls anywhere on the course. As long as your buddy didn't clean his ball — and he put it back where it was properly marked — you two were in the clear.

More From the Web

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN