Dear Rules Guy,
Here's a weird one for you. A buddy of mine hit his approach shot into the water, just off the banks of the hazard. When he went to fish his ball out, he snagged a couple others that were in reach. My friend then dropped a ball in the drop area and addressed it. That's when he realized that the ball he dropped was not his own. Thinking that he had to play his own ball, my friend fished his original ball from his pocket and replaced the one he had dropped. I let him off the hook without a penalty, but we're not sure he did the right thing. What's your call?
— Jeff Wallace, Phoenix, Ariz.
I'm sure your pal was proud of his little fishing expedition, but what he saved in lost balls he made up for in lost strokes. As it happens, there was no Rule requiring your friend to replace his ball — whether you recover your original ball or not, you are allowed to drop another ball in its place. And from this misstep came your buddy's more costly error. Once he dropped the new ball, it was considered in play. By substituting that ball for his original one without any reason allowed by the Rules of Golf, your friend ran afoul of Rule 15-2 once he hit the new ball. His punishment? Two strokes or the loss of hole in match play.