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Rules Guy: I hit a ball underneath an oak with Spanish moss hanging from its limbs. I decided to chip my ball back into the fairway, but there were long pieces of moss hanging in my way. I reasoned that they were loose impediments and pulled them off the tree, giving me a clear path. Did I make the right choice?
— J. Mertzman, via e-mail
Ay, caramba! Spanish moss is pretty, but it can definitely cause some overgrowth on your scorecard. If the moss is on the ground, it’s considered a loose impediment and can be removed without penalty (Rule 23-1). But Decision 13-2/37 states that if the moss is growing on a tree, removing it is considered improving your line of play, which will cost you a two-stroke penalty (or loss of hole in match play).
Hey Rules Guy: In an effort to slay the dreaded shanks, I ran across a tip that involves addressing the ball as if I’m going to hit it, and then taking a practice swing in which I miss the ball to the inside, reminding me to clear my hips. It works so well that I’ve made it a regular part of my pre-shot routine. Trouble is, my buddies say that, since I’m addressing the ball, my practice swing counts as a stroke. They all know my routine, and that my “whiff” is intentional, but they insist it counts. Do I have to give it up?
— Mark K., Lake Orion, Mich.
Good for you, Mark — the first step to curing the shanks is admitting you have a problem. According to Rule 7, a practice swing may be taken at any time, at any place, provided it does not break any other rules. Even the definition of a “stroke” by USGA standards involves intent, as it is “a forward movement of the club made with the intention of striking at and moving the ball.” If you have no intention of hitting the ball, then you’re in the clear. It’s a gentleman’s (and lady’s) game, so your friends will just have to trust you.
Rules Runner: I was playing a round with my friend and was on the green about 20 feet from the hole. My friend stuck a tee into the ground (as his ball marker) about five feet from the hole. His marker was close to the line I was using, but I didn’t ask him to move it — I figured the chances of hitting it were slim. Naturally, my putt grazed the tee and dropped right into the center of the hole. Had my ball not hit his tee, it would not have gone in. Should I have taken a penalty? Should he have?
— Bo Hagood, Portland, Ore.
The USGA makes recommendations on what ball markers should look like (small and flat), but in reality you can use pretty much whatever you want — although that’s usually how you get into situations like this one. Decision 20-1/17 spells out this exact scenario, and you’ll be happy with the answer. Your friend’s tee is not an illegal ball marker, and hitting it incurs no penalty. When your ball deflects off another player’s marker, you must play it as it lies — or, in your case, you must bend over and fish it out of the hole.