A LIGHT DUSTING
Dear Rules Guy: My friend's ball was in a greenside bunker, while mine was nearby on the fringe of the green. He swung and took so much sand that a small pile ended up covering my ball. Can I remove the sand from my ball before I hit my shot?
—Frank Valentino, Simon, Ohio
Let me first say that if your "friend" sand-splashed your ball on purpose, that's taking gamesmanship to a new level. Luckily for you, Rule 1-4 affords what's called "equity," meaning that you're entitled to the lie and line of play you had when your ball came to rest. You may remove any sand that's on your ball or in your line to the hole. But remember: Normally, lifting and cleaning your ball is forbidden unless you're on the green.
Rules Man: A guy I know uses the base of his putter to tap his coin into the green after he marks his ball. Isn't this considered touching the line of the putt, and thereby a breach of the Rules?
—Louis Armstrong III, Arlington, Texas
Louis, you're my kind of guy—a real Rules stickler. In this case, though, that fellow is in the clear. There's no stipulation against tapping down a ball marker. You're actually entitled to more leeway than you might think when on the green. Rule 16-1a spells out your options: In addition to pressing down your or another player's marker, you can remove loose impediments and movable obstructions, fix ball marks, and lift and replace the ball. You can even place your putter in front of the ball when addressing it, provided you don't press it down on the surface.
Hey, Rules Guy: My competitor's ball landed on the green, but just barely. He then killed his putt all the way across the green to the fringe on the other side. Does he get the luxury of putting the flag back in, even though he already made one stroke with the pin pulled?
—Bill Pike, W. Palm Beach, Fla.
According to Rule 17-1, you can have the flagstick attended, removed or held up before playing from anywhere on the course. But that doesn't mean that once the flagstick is removed it can't be replaced. So yes, your competitor can put the flag back in the hole. (Hey, let's not make this game harder than it already is.)
Rules Guy: I hit my tee shot on a par 3 and found what I thought was my ball (I could see the logo) plugged in a bunker. I swung and was shocked to find that I'd struck the remnant of an old ball that had sliced in half. I found my ball (same logo) in the rough. Can I play it without penalty?
—Joe Cevetello, Spring Hill, Fla.
I wish I could say it ain't so, Joe, but Decision 15/3 stipulates that you must take a penalty for hitting the wrong ball (or half a ball, in this case). Your penalty? Two shots in stroke play or loss of the hole in match play. Keep in mind that if you're trying to find or identify your ball in a bunker, Rule 12-1b lets you touch or move sand, without penalty. You can also lift your ball to identify it using the procedure in Rule 12-2.
GOT A RULES QUESTION?
Of course you do! Whatever it may be, send yours to email@example.com and the question may be answered in an upcoming issue of Golf. Until then, play by the Rules!