Dear Rules Guy: While I was playing in Florida, my drive landed close to a sunbathing alligator. I dropped along the ball's original path, without penalty. Did I correctly handle this truly dangerous lie?
-- Mark Roman, New York, N.Y.
Decision 1-4/10 gives you a pass, Mark. You can take a free drop from the nearest point of relief (a safe distance away), as long as you're no closer to the hole. Now, if your drive had landed in a hazard, the same ruling would have applied, but in that case you'd get one club length from the nearest non-danger zone in the hazard, no closer to the hole. You'd also have to stay in the hazard or drop in a similar nearby hazard, if possible. If not, you'd be allowed to take a penalty stroke to leave the hazard and escape harm's way.
Rules Man: As my partner was chipping, my ball slipped from my fingers, hit my foot and rolled toward his chip. The two balls collided, knocking his ball away. What's the proper course of action?
-- Greg Sedoff, Laguna Niguel, Calif.
Here's a plot twist: Your partner, not you, gets the penalty! Rule 19-2 states that if a player's ball is deflected by his partner's "equipment," the player receives a one-stroke penalty and must play the ball from where it came to rest. Once you lifted your ball the first time, it was no longer in play and became your equipment. Now, if you'd dropped the ball intentionally, per Rule 1-2, you would lose the hole in match play and would have to add two strokes in medal play. But even worse, you'd be disqualified from polite golf society.
Mr. Rules Guru: I thought I'd hit my first drive out-of-bounds off the tee, so I hit a provisional -- a 150-yard pop-up -- and played that ball from the fairway. Then I found my first ball! Could I have played that one instead?
-- Donney Parker, via e-mail
This is a tricky one, Donney, so play close attention. Per Rule 27-2, if you arrive at your provisional before you reach the spot where you think your first tee ball went OB, you can hit the second ball again. If you then find your first ball, you're allowed to play it instead. But once you've hit a provisional from a spot closer to the hole than your original ball, it becomes your ball in play.
Rules Genius: Let's say I have a downhill three-footer that burns the edge, then rolls 60 feet off the green. Could I take an unplayable lie -- and a one-stroke penalty -- and replace the ball in its original spot on the green?
-- Mike Myers, via e-mail
Very sneaky, Mike. But yes, you may declare a ball unplayable at any time, except when it's in a water hazard, says Rule 28. Better yet, you need not do the Walk of Shame down the slope to grab your original ball, if you don't want to. Simply replace it and putt again.
Got a rules question? Of course you do! Whatever it may be, send yours to firstname.lastname@example.org and the question may be answered in an upcoming issue of Golf Magazine. Until then, play by the Rules!