YOU’RE STILL AWAY
Dear Rules Guy: During a recent round, my buddy's drive hit a nearby tree, and his ball ricocheted backward behind our tee. Since he was farther from the hole, is it still his turn? Or do I get to tee off?
—Larry Van Quathem, Phoenix, Ariz.
This is exactly why, when playing with my high-handicap friends, I shield myself behind a leather-bound copy of The Rules of Golf. When hitting from the teeing ground, per Rule 10-2a, the honor system determines who plays first. It's only after everyone has hit from the teeing ground that the distance from the hole matters. So yes, you're up. Swing away.
Rules Man: Before I address my ball on the green, I hover my putterhead directly above the ball and take two or three "shadow" strokes. Then I putt when ready. A friend told me my practice strokes are illegal. Is he right?
—Xingyuan Li, Houston, Texas
While unusual, your technique is perfectly legal. If you don't have intent to hit the ball, your "shadow" swings are not considered strokes. As long as you don't touch the ball with your putter, or otherwise cause the ball to move, you're in the clear. My only concern is that Jim Furyk will read this and add your hover technique to his already deliberate putting routine, which stops and starts more than an ′87 Yugo.
Hey Rules Dude: After tapping in a one-foot putt, I reached down and retrieved my ball while it was still rattling around the bottom of the cup. Since a holed putt is defined as a ball "at rest" within the circumference of the hole and entirely below the lip, did I break a Rule by grabbing it before it was resting?
—Scott Wilfong, Baton Rouge, La.
Scott, you're taking the USGA's pace-of-play initiative a bit too seriously, don't you think? Still, you're in luck—there's no penalty. The definition of a holed putt includes the "ball at rest" stipulation simply because a ball that bounces out of the hole is not considered holed. But Decision 16/5.5 allows putts that fall into the hole to be quickly grabbed, even if the ball is not fully at rest.
THE EARTH MOVES
Rules Guru: I found my tee shot buried just under the lip of a steep fairway bunker. The sand was very loose, and as I approached my ball to take my stance, the ball slid downhill about a foot. What's the call?
—Jack Delong, Holland, Mich.
Unfortunately, you must dock yourself a stroke. Rule 18-2 decrees that if a player causes the ball to move, he or she incurs a one-stroke penalty and must replace the ball in its original position. It sounds unfair in your situation, but as Zen master Tiger Woods likes to say: "It is what it is."