Rules Guy: Can I Play a Golf Ball That Bobs in the Water?

September 5, 2016
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Rules Guy:

While I was playing in Nebraska’s Sandhills country, a tumbleweed rolled into the hole just before my putt stopped…on top of the tiny tumbleweed! My ball hovered above the hole. My buddy said to replace my ball just outside the hole because it never fell below the rim of the cup. I said my ball would have dropped, so it’s a holed putt. Help! —DON BYERS, OMAHA, NEB.

Hoss, I reckon this rule ain’t big enough for the both of you. Your friend is right. Now, had a tumblin’ tumbleweed deflected your ball, your stroke would have been replayed, under Rule 19-1b. But in this instance, your ball is not considered holed because it didn’t fall below the lip of the hole. You must remove that knot of dead plants, replace your ball at the lip, and tap in—after looking both ways for more stray tumbleweeds.

Dear Rules Man:

In a tournament on a windy day, my ball landed in a greenside water hazard. Small waves in the shallow water kept my ball in motion. I could have played it as it lay (part of my ball was above the surface), but I didn’t want to be penalized for hitting a moving ball. May I play a ball that bobs in water? —HAWLEY ROGERS, PALM COAST, FLA.

Allow me to (ahem) buoy your spirits: Play it you may. According to Rule 14-6, it’s perfectly fine to make a stroke at a ball that’s moving in a water hazard. Just make sure your club doesn’t touch the ground or the water before you start your downswing. Also, don’t delay the stroke to let the wind or the current improve the ball’s position—doing so would cost you the loss of hole in match play or two strokes in stroke play. Otherwise, have at it. (And who says golfers aren’t athletes? We play a water sport!)

Hey, Rules Guy:

Recently, I was vacationing with friends as we played our hacker version of the Ryder Cup. On alternate-shot day, at a crucial stage in the match, my partner whiffed his tee shot. Then came the debate: Do I have to play the ball where he left it—unmoved on his tee? Or can I peg it up at my preferred height before playing our second shot? —WILLIAM CODY, VIA E-MAIL

Ah, the dreaded whiff. Match-play pressure has produced some ugly swings. (Somewhere, Mark Calcavecchia is reading this—and feeling better about his Sunday singles shank on no. 17 at the 1991 Ryder Cup at Kiawah.) Once a player has made a stroke at the ball on the teeing ground, it’s in play. You must play the ball as it’s perched. If you re-tee to your preferred height and then make a stroke, you’re proceeding under penalty of stroke and, um, “distance.” Of this answer, I have not a whiff of doubt.

Almighty Ruler:

Isn’t it about time to do away with stroke and distance on shots that fly OB? I vote for stroke, no distance. Golf is hard enough as it is, right? —DAN HART, HYDE PARK, N.Y.

Yes, stroke and distance can seem harsh. Then again, we know the consequences. We can club down or aim far from the white stakes. Golf is hard—exactly hard enough, in my view. Sure, countless bylaws could be changed to diminish the impact of our shortcomings, but playing by tough-but-fair rules makes us better golfers and, dare I say, better people.