Ask the Rules Guy: Costly Divot

Ask the Rules Guy

Hey Rules Guy: I was playing with some friends in wet conditions in which we were allowed to lift and clean our balls. On the ninth hole, before I got to my ball, I took a practice swing about 10 feet behind it. However, I accidentally hit a nearby unearthed divot, which flew up and hit my ball. I replaced the ball, then lifted it, cleaned it and played on. My scoring partner gave me a one-shot penalty. Is there a penalty or not?
— Pierre van der Watt, South Africa

That's a new way to lay the sod over your ball. While you were right to replace your ball after it moved and had every right to lift and clean it under those circumstances, your friend was also right to hit you with a penalty. According to Decision 18-2a/20.5, a ball moved by a loose impediment struck during a practice swing is understood to be caused by the player, a breach of Rule 18-2a. And that says it's reasonably foreseeable that a practice swing will move loose impediments that could make your ball move—so it's your fault. Next time be sure to steer clear of those loose impediments and you won't get your hands, or your scorecard, dirty.