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DEAR RULES GUY: My tee shot landed on a grass island in a lateral water hazard. When I took my stance, a large rock under my feet shifted, giving me a more stable position. My buddy said that because I moved the rock within the hazard and it gave me an advantage, I should be penalized. I told him it was an accident. Please rule, Ruler!
—Todd Topolka, via e-mail
I see you like your game on the rocks. I prefer mine straight up with a splash of smugness. Your buddy was probably referring to Rule 13-2, which says that you cannot improve your area of intended stance or swing, or Rule 13-4, which states that you cannot move a loose impediment in a hazard. In this case, however, the rock moved as you were fairly taking your stance. You didn’t take a deliberate or abnormal action to create a better stance, in which case you would have incurred a penalty. Since you simply took your stance by stepping on the rock where it was located, you incurred no penalty. Now go get a drink. You’ve earned it.
DEAR RULES GUY:
I found what I thought was my ball in the fairway. I took a swing and completely whiffed, but when I looked down I realized that the ball I swung at wasn’t even mine! Since it wasn’t my ball, there’s no harm, no foul, right?
—Tommy Atkins, Horseshoe Bay, Texas
Decision 15/1 says that if a player swings at and misses a wrong ball, it’s a two-stroke penalty. It doesn’t matter whether or not you actually hit (or missed) the wrong ball. The stroke you made doesn’t count, but you’re still penalized two strokes under Rule 15-3b. So I’m afraid that in this case, it’s no harm—but plenty of foul.