Ask the Rules Guy: Original vs. Provisional

February 2, 2013

Mr. Rules Man: In a match-play event, my opponent and I both hit our balls into the woods, then hit provisionals. After searching for four minutes, I found his ball (in a tough spot) but not mine; I played my provisional and made a 5. It took him two swings to escape the woods, and he carded a 6. Upset, he claimed that he'd stopped looking for his ball so I should have stopped, too. But I was looking for my ball when I found his. Does he have a case?
— Frank Cardio, Rockaway, N.J.

I haven't seen someone grasp at straws this desperately since the Scarecrow met those flying monkeys. Rule 27-1c clearly states that a player has five minutes from the time his side begins searching for the lost ball. No rule forbids his competition from helping him search for his shot. In fact, it's common courtesy to do so. If the original ball was found within the allotted five minutes, your opponent must then abandon his provisional and continue playing the original. Had he continued with his provisional after the original ball was found, he then would have been playing a wrong ball, and he would lose the hole under Rule 15-3a.