Ask the Rules Guy: Thrownaway, branching out and off the mark

Ask the Rules Guy
Jason Raish

Hello Rules Guy: I thought my approach shot on a par 4 might have landed out of bounds behind the green, so I hit a provisional ball (into a bunker). My brother and I checked behind the green but couldn't find my original ball. Then, as I approached my second ball, I came upon the first one. I chipped that on and two-putted for a bogey. Unbeknownst to me, my brother had found my first ball (the one I finished the hole with) out of bounds and had tossed it in my direction without telling me. Was I right to have played it?
— Peter Scarcello, Utica, N.Y.

Sometimes it pays to be a little oblivious. According to Decision 15/10, there is no penalty for playing a wrong ball (in this case, your first ball that was out of bounds) since you were unaware that it had been thrown back inbounds. Once it was made clear that you had played the incorrect ball, you should have corrected the error by returning and finishing the hole with your provisional ball, with no penalty aside from the ball out of bounds. Had you already teed off on the next hole, you would get off scot-free with your bogey.

Hey Rules Guy: Last weekend my buddy hit a shot under a pine tree that had been trimmed up. After stepping in and taking a couple of practice swings, he addressed his ball. On his downswing, though, his club got caught by a branch. He continued his swing at the ball but the branch took his club out of his grip. He finished his swing with no club in his hand and the club itself flew backwards about 10-15 feet. Would this count as a stroke?
— Dan Miller, via e-mail

What's that saying about trees being 90 percent air? Tough break for your friend to be right underneath the other 10 percent. Decision 14/1 is clear on what needs to happen in this situation: Even though he completed his swing without the club in hand after the tree snatched it away, your buddy still has to count it as a stroke. Next time remind him to trim down his backswing.

Dear Rules Guy: My buddy and I landed our second shots just off the green within inches of each other. He was a few inches farther out and played first after I marked my ball. He hit both his ball and my marker, which rolled close to the cup. I offered to drop where we had first landed but he insisted I play from where my ball marker was. I declared that I was playing both balls and finished the hole. What's the ruling?
— Jake Jones, Waipahu, Hawaii

You both missed the mark. Any time your ball or your ball marker is moved by someone else, you must place (not drop) the ball back where it originally came to rest and then play from there. Dropping it is a two-stroke penalty for playing from the wrong spot. If he altered your original lie during his shot, you could have placed your ball as near as possible to the original spot within a club length, and no closer to the hole.

This article originally appeared in the December 2012 issue of Golf Magazine, on newstands now. Click here to subscribe to Golf Magazine and to learn about Golf Magazine All Access.