Ask the Rules Guy: Suspended putters and iPods on the golf course

Ask the Rules Guy: Suspended putters and iPods on the golf course


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DEAR RULES GUY: While addressing a 3-foot putt on a relatively steep, uphill green with the ball precariously resting between aeration holes, a gust of wind caused my ball to roll backward, hit my putter and come to rest. I don’t ground my putter; I suspend it in the air to get my putting alignment. I never moved my putter or grounded it, so I shouldn’t be penalized, right?
Ben Squires, Waterloo, Iowa

Sorry, Ben. You might not have done the crime, but you will certainly do the time. According to Rule 19-2, you are responsible for accidently deflecting or stopping your ball, regardless of whether your putter was grounded at the time. Assuming you didn’t do anything to move the ball, you are not in violation of Rule 18-2a (moving a ball at rest), so the correct course of action is a one-stroke penalty, after which you should play the ball from the point at which you stopped it. It may seem irrational on the surface, but for every action, there is a reaction. In this case, it involves you putting a bigger number on your scorecard.

I have a semi-regular foursome, but when I can’t get together with my usual group I prefer to play alone. Since I’m by myself, I usually bring my iPod along with me and listen to music while I play. As I was finishing up my last round, a player in the group in front of me told me that it’s illegal to listen to your iPod during a round. I figured it would be against the Rules to listen to golf instruction, but not music. What’s the ruling?

Ken Clement, via e-mail

It used to be that the very sight of a Walkman would be enough to send Rules Guy into a tizzy. But times change, and gadgets are as at home on the course as anywhere else. According to Rule 14-3, players may use electronic devices, as long as they don’t communicate information (e.g., a phone call from a swing coach) that would assist your play. While your music may help you stay focused, it normally doesn’t break this rule. However, if the music was originally recorded for the purpose of helping you make your stroke, playing it on repeat for the duration of your round would land you in hot water with the Rules.