Ask the Rules Guy: Sticky situations and bad advice

Wednesday September 21st, 2011
Jason Raish

• Got a Rules question? Zip it to

Dear Rules Guy: During a Florida golf trip, I pulled my drive into a row of orange trees. After a lengthy search, we finally found the ball firmly embedded inside an orange on the ground. My playing partners said I had to play it as it lay, but I felt like a free drop was in order. What's your ruling?
— Terry Decker, New Carlisle, Ohio

If your ball had been lying next to the orange, the fruit would have been considered a loose impediment. But since it actually became embedded in the fruit, you're not entitled to a free drop. Instead (according to Decision 23/10), you had the option of playing the ball/fruit as it lay, or deeming your ball unplayable and dropping with a one-stroke penalty. Unlucky for sure, but orange you glad I didn't say stroke and distance?

Rules Rectifier: I was playing in a tournament with two older women. We got to the tee box on a par 3, but I couldn't find a distance marker anywhere. Knowing that one of the women was a regular at this course, I asked if she knew how far we were from the hole. The other woman heard me and went berserk, claiming that I had to take a two-stroke penalty for even asking. I ignored her, but I had the nagging suspicion that she was right. Can this possibly be true?
— Sandra F., Philadelphia, Penn.

According to Decision 8-1/1, distances are specifically excluded from the definition of "advice." Regardless of whether there's a marker on the tee box, you are within your rights to ask either an opponent or a fellow competitor how long a hole is. In fact, you're allowed to discuss any matter of distance on the course (e.g., how far away a particular bunker is) without penalty (Decision 8-1/2). You should have told the busybody in your group to buzz off — you did nothing wrong.

Rules Ref: I was playing with two friends when I replaced my ball on the green. I stepped up to address it, but one buddy pointed out that my ball was a yellow one from my pocket, not the white one I had hit onto the green. I replaced it with the original ball, but my other friend then interceded, saying that since I had placed and addressed my ball on the green, I had already "played" the substituted ball, even without hitting it. What do you say?
— R. Fein., via e-mail

When is a stroke not a stroke? Certainly not in this case. Although playing the substituted ball would have been a breach of Rule 15-2 (and a two-stroke penalty), Decision 15-2/2 makes it clear that the punishment should only be meted out if you actually hit the incorrect ball — simply placing and addressing it is not enough. As long as you replaced your original ball in the correct spot (and, assuming you marked and placed the yellow ball correctly, there is no reason to assume you didn't), then you're in the clear. Next time just use proper manners and keep your hands out of your pockets.

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