Ask the Rules Guy: Double trouble, cleaned up and breaking point

Ask the Rules Guy
Jason Raish

Dear Rules Guy: My son and I were playing a course in the very sunny Caribbean. As we played a par 3 that shared a green with another hole, I lost sight of my tee shot in the sun. When we got to the green I didn't see my ball and thought this might be my first hole-in-one. Lo and behold, my son found it in the hole! The only problem is, it was in the other hole of the shared green. So I picked it up and placed it on the green without penalty. Was this proper protocol?
— Dave Butuk, Meridian, Idaho

Well, at least you aced the ruling. The hole not in use on the green is considered ground under repair by Decision 16/7. The ball must be lifted and placed at the nearest point of relief, no closer to the (proper) hole, without penalty.

Rules Guy: I was playing a round of golf with two co-workers and one stranger. On the 15th green, the stranger marked his ball and walked back toward the edge of the green to read his line. He squatted down and I noticed him cleaning off his ball on the green surface. Not wanting to alienate our new friend, I didn't say anything, but should I have raised the alarm that he was testing the surface?
— Travis Hopkins, Zephyrhills, Fla.

No need for alarms. Cleaning a ball by rubbing it on the green may not be the preferred method — consider buying your new friend a towel — but it's not illegal in this case (Decision 16-1d/5). Since the line of his putt wasn't touched and it was clear that he was simply wiping his ball clean, there is no penalty.

Dear Rules Guy: On an approach shot, the shaft of my 8-iron broke and the head came off at the bottom of my swing, driving the ball straight down into the wet fairway to the point where only the very top was visible; the clubhead landed on the edge of the green. Since all this happened because of faulty equipment I was unsure how to proceed. One friend said the stroke shouldn't count but that I'd have to play the ball as it lay. Another said I had to count the swing and drop with a two-stroke penalty. A third friend said to dig up the ball and play it from where the clubhead landed. I ended up counting the stroke and taking a two-stroke penalty. Can you help?
— Roger Micheli, via e-mail

Let's start at the beginning: since your club broke during your downswing with the broken end driving the ball into the ground, the stroke counts but there is no additional penalty and you must play the ball as it lies (Decision 14/5). Since the ball never got airborne, you're not entitled to relief for a ball embedded in its own pitch mark (Rule 25-2). Therefore, you must either play the ball as it lies or deem it unplayable and drop it using Rule 28 (one-stroke penalty). Because your club broke in the normal course of play, you can have it repaired or replace it during the round. Now go get yourself some quality irons.