Ask the Rules Guy: Split balls and flag obstructions

Ask the Rules Guy: Split balls and flag obstructions


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DEAR RULES REVELER: After my friend hit a shot from the fairway, the
ball split in two mid-flight and the two halves
ended up in different locations. He felt that he
should get to replay his stroke without penalty,
but I thought he should play a new ball from the
spot where the largest piece landed. He gave in,
but he wasn’t happy about it. Who was right?

S. Hurwitz, via e-mail

In this split decision, you come out on the
losing end. According to Rule 5-3 (which
deals with the so-called “fitness” of golf balls),
a stroke that results in a split or shattered ball
should be replayed as close as possible to the
spot of the original stroke without penalty. You
owe your buddy an apology — start by buying
him a few Pro V1s to replace the gutta-perchas
he’s apparently lugging around.

DEAR RULES GUY: Recently, I was hitting my third shot into a
long par-4. I hit a line drive that took a high
hop off the green and got wrapped up in
the flag. But instead of dropping down to
the green, the ball just stayed wrapped up,
essentially tied to the pin. Neither of us had
any idea what the Rule was on this, so my
playing partner wiggled the stick a little bit
to release the ball from the flag. As soon as
he did this, the ball dropped straight down
into the cup, so I took a birdie. Did I do the
right thing?

Don Laviolette Martinez, Calif.

As a general rule, any time you
include the word “wiggle” in a
question, you’ve probably violated one
of the Rules. According to Decision
17/6, the flag is treated as a movable
obstruction, which means that you get
free relief. Unfortunately, free relief
doesn’t mean that you get to just put
the ball in the hole. Instead, you have
to place the ball on the lip of the cup
(but not so close that it can roll in).
You can call it a gimme, but don’t call
it a birdie — it should have been a par.

RULES GUY: The second shots of me and
a friend came to rest in the
fairway separated by less
than three inches. Neither of
us could play our ball without
hitting/moving the other ball.
What we did is probably wrong,
but he marked his ball, I hit my
shot, and he replaced his ball.

Larry Staha, Stafford, Texas

The Rules of Golf are
often so confusing that
they convince players not to
trust their instincts. On the
whole, this is good advice, as
most golfers’ instincts about
the Rules are as off the mark
as their drives. In this case,
however, you were right on
the money. Rule 22-2 gives
players the right to lift and
mark their balls anywhere
on the course. As long as
your buddy didn’t clean his
ball — and he put it back where
it was properly marked —
you two were in the clear.