Ask the Rules Guy: Is my divot considered a loose impediment?

May 17, 2017

Got a question about the Rules? Ask the Rules Guy—he won’t throw the book at you!

Hey, Rules Guy:

After I took a practice swing during a recent round, my divot landed on top of my ball. My playing partners said I couldn’t remove the hunk of sod, so I didn’t, but was that the correct call? I thought I could remove it, since it was a loose impediment, as long as I was careful not to move the ball and incur a penalty.

Whether it’s on your head or on your ball, a toupée rarely looks good. (See: William Shatner.) Here, the potential problem goes beyond appearances. Per Decision 23/13, the displaced divot is indeed a loose impediment. And as you correctly guessed, you’re allowed to remove it, but if you move the ball in the process, you’re on the hook for a one-stroke penalty. So how are your nerves? If you’re feeling a little twitchy, I’d be safe and play it as it lies. Upside: If your shot veers off-course, you can yell “Mudball!,” just like a Tour pro.

Your Excellency:

I had a golf dream the other night. I reached a tee box to find the two markers in the wrong place. Instead of flanking the left and right sides of the tee box, they were rotated 90 degrees. A line drawn through the two markers would point right down the fairway. So if I teed up between the markers, I’d be in danger of hitting the forward marker with my ball. I awoke in a cold sweat. What’s the right move if this happens in the real world? Should I tee off using two club-lengths right or left of the markers?

I have this recurring dream: I open up The Rules of Golf and a flock of David Fay’s bowties flap out from the pages like birds. Weird. As to your question, there are a couple of very real decisions—11-4b/2 and 11-4b/3—that relate to your phantasmic quandary. Ideally, you should discontinue play until the committee can clarify where the teeing ground should be. (It’s unlikely that the club would set markers north-south rather than east-west; the likely culprit would be pranksters, or perhaps a forgetful maintenance worker.) If you can’t reach the committee, simply make your best judgment about the markers’ proper placement. Later, if the committee is satisfied that no advantage was gained, you’re all clear.

Rules Man:

During a friendly best-ball match, my partner Joe and I hit approach shots that both ended up in the fringe, about 18 inches apart. Joe was away, so he went first—but to take his normal stance, he had to step on the fringe between my ball and the pin. When I addressed my ball, I noticed that the fringe on my putting line had been pressed down by his footprint, providing me with a smoother path to the hole. Did we unintentionally violate the rules?

Joe’s feet have not failed you. Your partner was acting within the rules, so there’s no penalty, assuming he inadvertently improved your line. (If he did so on purpose, well, things get too complicated to go into here. Suffice to say, you’d be right to plead, “Say it ain’t so, Joe!”) There’s even more good news: You’re not required to try to restore the line of play to its pre-smush condition. But do know that when it was your team’s turn, you could have chosen to hit first, with Joe hitting second. Anyway, if nothing else, remember to always tread lightly around the rules.

Of course you do! Whatever it may be, send yours to [email protected] and the question may be answered in an upcoming issue of GOLF. Until then, play by the Rules!