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DEAR RULES GUY: After a wayward drive, I approached my ball and realized I was close to the driving range. I suddenly imagined my head to be a huge target with a hat on it. I hit a terrible second shot. Should I have gotten free relief out of that hazardous situation?
—Jon M. ,Washington, D.C.
As someone who has played many a round in Florida under the watchful eyes of a hungry gator, I know it’s tough to hit a ball under fear of death. The Rules do try their best to keep you from hurting yourself—Decision 1-4/10 provides relief from such imminent dangers as bees’ nests or rattlesnakes—but they do not provide for “common occurrences” on the course. Unfortunately, having errant balls fly your way is a too-common occurrence. If you were really that shaken up, you should have taken an unplayable lie under Rule 28. It would have cost you a penalty stroke, but that’s a small price to pay for making sure your melon doesn’t get dented.
DEAR RULES GUY: I hit my second shot barely out of bounds. My ball was close to the OB marker, so in the interest of time I didn’t bother with a drop, instead just hitting and making a mental note to take a penalty stroke. Later, my friend asked if I took a drop. When I explained what I had done, he told me that I had earned two penalty strokes, not one. Was he right?
—K. Kraus, Harrisburg, Pa.
The good news is, your buddy was wrong. The bad news He was too lenient. By playing your ball from outside the boundaries of the course, you were hitting a ball that was no longer in play. According to Decision 15/6, you played a “wrong ball,” a two-stroke penalty. However, you still need to be penalized for hitting your ball OB. So tack on an extra stroke (making three in total), and play your ball from where you took your second shot.
DEAR RULES GUY: I found my ball sitting on a precarious patch of grass in the middle of the fairway. As it turns out, my ball had landed on a replaced divot, but from the shape of it compared to the hole underneath, the divot had definitely been put on the wrong spot. It was far too tall for the hole it was in, and my ball was literally wobbling. Even though I know it’s against the Rules to flatten down a replaced divot, I decided that there was no way that this divot could be considered 'replaced,' so I patted it down with my club and took my next shot. Does the judge find me not guilty of a Rules infraction?
—Colin Kearns, New York, N.Y.
As much as your “puffed up” ball may have been a pain in the keister, Rule 13-2 makes it clear that patting down a replaced divot constitutes improving your lie, so the only question is whether your divot would be considered “replaced.” Decision 13-2/7 defines a divot as being replaced when substantially all of it lies roots down in a divot hole—but not necessarily the one it came from. Your landing spot sounds like it meets this definition, meaning it did not qualify for an exception. You’re guilty of improving your lie, and the sentence is a harsh one: two strokes or loss of the hole in match play.