Ask the Rules Guy: I hit a provisional, but I didn’t say the p-word itself. Is this a penalty?!

October 5, 2017

Dear Rules Guy:

During a tournament, I hit a wayward drive. Unsure if I’d find it, I announced that I’d hit another and play it if my first was lost. It wasn’t, but the committee later penalized me after a fellow competitor told them that I had given the definition of “provisional” but not the p-word itself. Seriously? — JOE HUBISZ, BRADFORD, N.H.

Seriously. Decision 27-2a/1 states that a player’s statement either must mention “provisional ball” or make clear that he is proceeding under Rule 27-2a. Variations on “I think that’s lost— I’m reloading” don’t cut it. You need to be specific; otherwise, you’ve proceeded under stroke and distance, as your original ball is now considered lost. Specific announcements aren’t limited to provisionals. When lifting your ball for identification (Rule 12-2) or to determine if it is unfit for play (Rule 5-3), you must first inform your fellow competitors or opponents what you’re up to, or be penalized one stroke.


Dear Rules Ref:

I was working as a rules official in a local tournament when a player in a bunker wasn’t sure if he’d hit his ball out of bounds. He wanted to play a provisional ball and asked if he could rake the bunker before taking a drop. I granted him permission, but was that correct? — MARK REIMER, PLYMOUTH, WIS.

Good on you, Mark—your call was spot-on. Decision 13-4/37 states that, because the original ball had come to rest outside the bunker, the prohibitions in Rule 13-4 don’t apply, and Exception 2 does. Which for all you non–Rules Guys and Gals means that in this case the player can indeed smooth the sand without restriction before dropping the ball. Wait—the player did say, “I’m playing a provisional,” right?

Hey, Rules Guy:

My tee shot landed inside a lateral hazard, resting on cut-down reeds. The ball looked playable, so I entered the hazard. As I did, I stepped on a fallen reed several feet from my ball, which made the ball move, rendering it unplayable. My bad—but I hadn’t yet decided whether to play the ball. Still, my opponent insisted that I take a penalty stroke for moving my ball and another to drop out of the hazard. I disagreed and just took the drop penalty. Who was correct? — JOHN LAMB, MOORESVILLE, N.C.

While you might be inclined to give yourself the benefit of the doubt here, John, the rules aren’t. Since it was still possible that you were going to play your shot from the hazard, you receive a one-stroke penalty for causing the ball to move under Rule 18-2 and then another for taking relief from the hazard under Rule 26-1. Remember, tread lightly around reeds—and rules.

Mr. Rules Maven:

As one of my opponents putted in a four-ball match, his partner stood directly on his line beyond the hole. They claimed this was legal because the line of putt doesn’t extend past the hole. I find it hard to believe that the rules permit this ploy. Do they? — EARL HODIN, MD., ARLINGTON, VA.

Where, you ask, do the rules, er, draw the line? The line of putt indeed ends at the hole, so the partner’s positioning was permissible. Caveat: Teammate B can’t stand there while Teammate A putts to indicate the desired line. Under Rule 8-2b, this would mean loss of hole in match play or two strokes in stroke play (for the player putting). Had this act also assisted the partner watching—say, if his upcoming putt were on the same line—he would get the same penalty.


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!