Ask the Rules Guy: Mud balls and rake approaches

Ask the Rules Guy: Mud balls and rake approaches

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DEAR RULES GUY: I teed up and addressed my ball, then stepped back to take a practice swing and dug up an enormous divot that sent mud and dirt flying everywhere. Some of the mud stuck to the back of my ball. I picked up the ball and started to clean it, but my buddy said I couldn’t because I had addressed it and it was therefore in play. What do you say, Rules Guy?
Ernie Wong, via e-mail

While your ball may not be clean, your conscience should be. You were well within your rights to pick up your ball and wipe it down because you had not made a stroke, and therefore your ball was not yet in play. If you had taken a stroke and completely whiffed, you would have incurred a one-stroke penalty for lifting and cleaning your ball. You would have to wait to clean your ball until you were proceeding under a Rule (as in Rule 24-2) that allows you to lift and clean the ball, or until you were on the green—that is, if you ever got there.

One of my competitors hit a shot that stopped up against a rake just above a sand trap. Because of the slope, the ball would’ve rolled into the bunker had he moved the rake. So he used his wedge to strike the rake’s handle, which propelled his ball onto the green. I told him he could only strike the ball with the clubhead. Should he have been penalized?

Bart Berns, Milwaukee, Wisc.

Ah yes, the old hit-the-rake-that’s-blocking-the-ball-from-going-into-the-bunker routine. I’ve seen it a 100 times, and each time it’s permissible. Your competitor fairly struck at the ball (Rule 14-1) even though an object intervened between the clubhead and the ball (Decision 14-1/5). He also could have removed the rake and replaced the ball (Rule 24-1a) if it moved. If the ball failed to come to rest on the spot and kept rolling into the bunker, he would’ve had to replace it at the nearest spot where it would come to rest that’s not nearer the hole and not in the bunker.