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Ask the Rules Guy: Who's Penalized When a Putt Hits the Flagstick?

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Dear Rules Guru: In a recent match, my opponent had a long downhill putt. I pulled the pin and placed it 20 feet from the cup. He powered his ball right past the hole and into the flagstick! He claimed I should be penalized; I say it's his fault for hitting a poor putt. What's the call?

—Dan Earley, Hiram, Ohio

Your opponent learned the hard way that you want to rattle the flagstick from off the green, not on it. According to Rule 17-3a, after a stroke is made on the green, the ball may not strike the flagstick, whether the pin is in the hole, attended or lying on the putting surface. The ball's path is the sole responsibility of the person who struck it. He should have been aware that his putt might hit the stick. The penalty: loss of the hole, or two strokes in medal play.

HAZARDOUS WASTE

Dear Rules Guru: After splashing my tee ball into a pond, I hit my next shot from the drop area—only to find my original ball on the far side of the water. The guy I was playing against said that because I didn't declare the ball I hit from the drop area a "provisional," I had to play the second ball. Is he correct?

—Bob Partain, Hatfield, Pa.

No and yes: A provisional is only used for balls thought to be lost "outside a water hazard or out of bounds," according to Rule 27-2. Since you thought your first shot had entered the water hazard, you could not play a provisional. When you dropped and hit your third shot from the drop area, you deemed your first ball lost—meaning it's no longer your ball in play—so yes, he's right that you had to play the second ball.

FLOOD INSURANCE

Rules Man: I hit a drive that landed near a water hazard. Heavy rains had swelled the pond, so although my ball was outside the red stakes, it was under water. I took relief under the "casual water" rule. Was I right?

—Kyle Schmitt, Libertyville, Ill.

The stakes themselves define the boundaries of your course's water hazards, not the actual wet stuff. Even though it was submerged, your ball was resting outside those stakes, meaning it was outside of the hazard and in "temporary" water. Yes, you correctly identified it as casual water. Well done, Kyle. Here's hoping the rain lets up. It's hard to make a full turn in fishing waders.

CROSSING THE LINE

Rules Guy: My club pro overcooked a shot that soared over a road marked as OB and hit a different hole's green. He said his ball was in bounds and played on. Can I bust him?

—Annika Wilkes, Palm Desert, Calif.

While your pro's ball did cross the OB line, it returned safely to the course. Unless your club has a local rule concerning out of bounds, an adjacent hole is fair game—even if the ball traversed hostile air space to get there. As for your pro, well, he either has a duck hook the size of Dallas—or Jedi-like course-management vision. Just call him OB-Wan Kenobi.

Got a Rules question? Of course you do! Whatever it may be, send yours to rulesguy@golf.com and the question may be answered in an upcoming issue of Golf Magazine. Until then, play by the Rules!

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