Ask the Rules Guy: Ball rescue and cup plugs

Ask the Rules Guy: Ball rescue and cup plugs


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DEAR RULES GUY: My ball was on a steep incline just above a water hazard. I was chipping up to the green but flubbed my shot. The ball scooted a few feet, but because the incline was so steep, it rolled back toward the hazard below. Rather than lose a ball, I stopped it with my club. My buddy said that I should be penalized because I stopped a ball in motion; I told him I knew I was going to lose the ball and I was going to count the penalty for going in the water, so no harm done.
Dustin Mason, Springfield, Mo.

Times are tough, but the rules have no sympathy for your rescue operation. Because it’s impossible to know that your ball would’ve ended up in the hazard, you’re not penalized for that likely result, but you suffer a stiffer penalty for stopping it. If it’s determined that you were guilty of a serious breach for stopping the ball (e.g., you may have had to play a ball from the other side of the hazard if the ball had gone in), you would be DQ’d. Otherwise, under Decision 1-2/5.5, a 2-stroke penalty is in order because you illegally “exerted influence” on a ball in motion. You must play the ball from where you stopped it.

I was gauging my putt when I noticed an old cup hole in my line. The greenskeeper hadn’t pushed the plug down into the hole, and the plug would’ve popped my ball off line. I took relief at the nearest spot I could but still on the green. Was that the right move?

Art Stremski, Topeka, Kan.

Decision 16-1c/3 lets you raise or lower the plug to level it with the surface. (The alternative—summoning course officials to do it—won’t exactly play well at a crowded muni.) The decision also entitles you to relief under Rule 25-1b(iii), which lets you lift and place your ball without penalty at the nearest point of relief not in a hazard and not nearer to the hole.