Ask the Rules Guy: Defying gravity and hidden treasure

Ask the Rules Guy
Jason Raish

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Rules Guy: I was playing a tournament at an unfamiliar course last week. Twice I putted the ball into the hole, only to have it bounce right back out again. Everyone in the group said they clearly heard the ball hit the bottom of the cup, and the cups definitely seemed shallow. At the 19th hole afterward, someone said the putts should have counted and I should have won. What's the rule?
— J. Shorrow, via e-mail

It's not unheard of to have a ball jump out of the cup, but to have it happen twice in one round should have you checking behind the bushes for the people from Punk'd. Even though it sounds like this course has a prankster for a greenskeeper, your buddy at the bar was way off. By definition, for a ball to be "holed," it must come to rest inside the circumference of the hole and below the lip for the hole to be over. By taking a leap out of the cup, your ball was most assuredly not at rest, and therefore your hole wasn't over. It's a raw deal, but you lost. Take your lumps…and then pass them on to whoever cut those holes.

Rules Rectifier: I hit a perfect layup tee shot in the middle of the fairway, 10 yards short of the water. When I got to the ball, half of it was buried. Thinking it had landed in an old divot, I swung down as hard as I could. Up went the ball, 20 yards and into the water. After taking the shot, I noticed that the ball hadn't been in a divot but actually on a drain with grass growing around it. I thought I had no choice but to drop, playing 4, but my playing partners told me I shouldn't take a penalty, since the ball was on a drain. I took the free drop, landed on the green, two putts for a par 4. Were they right?
— Lael Mendoza, Hoffman Estates, Ill.

Much like a good deed, it is often said that no good layup goes unpunished. Had you noticed that your ball was on top of a drain and not in a divot, you obviously would have been entitled to a free drop under Rule 24-2. Unfortunately, your discovery was too little, too late. Once you hit your ball, you lost any claim you had to relief, and instead were required to play from where it landed (or, in this case, sank). You should have trusted your instincts — your drain shot counted and should have been treated like any other splashdown.

Ruler: My approach flew long and my friend found my ball buried in calf-high grass behind the green. We verified it was my ball and I took a hack at it. My friend said, "Nice shot," which I thought was sarcastic because I saw a ball fly out short and left. Turns out that my ball was a few feet from the pin. I had also dislodged a second ball, unseen by either of us before my swing. I putted out for par, but did I incur a penalty for striking two balls?
— T. Subias, Eugene, Ore.

Believe it or not, you're in the clear. According to Decision 15/2, you're not responsible for abandoned balls that you accidentally dislodge from their hiding places. Not only are you not penalized for hitting the "wrong" ball, you are also not required to hit your ball again, so you were free to putt out. That means that your shot was doubly great. Not only did you save par, but you also got to pocket a free ball!

This article first appeared in the December 2011 issue of Golf Magazine. The tablet version of Golf Magazine is available for free for magazine subscribers on iPad, Kindle Fire, Nook Tablet, Nook Color and Samsung Galaxy Tab. Learn more