Rules Guy: What Happens If My Golf Ball Breaks in Two?

October 9, 2016

Hey, Rules Guy:

Call me Hercules. A recent tee shot I hit split the ball in two! One half went 30 yards to the left, the other 30 yards to the right. It was a new ball that I’d only used for a few holes. I declared a mulligan and teed up again. What’s the official ruling? — HANK BRUNE, VIA E-MAIL

Given the halving of your ball, Rules Guy will endeavor to reply with wisdom worthy of Solomon. You made the right call. According to Rule 5-3, if a ball breaks into pieces as a result of the stroke, the stroke is cancelled and the golfer plays again, without penalty, from the original spot. A ball that’s unfit for play (visibly cut, cracked or “out-of-round”) may be substituted mid-hole. But beware: A ball that’s merely dinged up (scratched, scraped, mud-caked, etc.) remains fit for play and is not substitutable mid-hole. If you mistakenly replace a fit-for-play ball before completing a hole, the penalty is loss of hole in match play and two strokes in stroke play. That’s hardly Biblical wrath but a violation worth avoiding.

Rules Man:

A guy I play with kneels on one knee when marking his ball, leaving an indentation on the green. This must violate some rule, right? — PETER CASTELLI, VIA E-MAIL

Taking a knee on grass is much more appropriate for Tom Brady than for Tom from accounting. Still, as long as this fellow isn’t touching his line of putt — which is forbidden under Rule 16-1a — there’s no violation. If his kneeling damages the green, that’s a breach not of the Rules but of etiquette, and I suggest politely asking him to cease and desist. Appeal to his better angels. Feel free to borrow my dad’s gentle admonition to me when I was a Rules Boy and forgot to repair my ball marks on the greens: “Always be good to the golf course.” If he continues, ask your club’s higher-ups to warn this genuflecting golfer. He could eventually face loss of playing privileges, at which point kneeling and begging for forgiveness won’t help.

Dear Rules Guy:

On a par 3, I hit a tee shot that stopped on the edge of the cup. As we approached the green, the ball dropped in. A hole-in-one! Or so I thought. The other players in my group said my ball had not dropped within the allotted time, so it was not an ace. Dejected, I replaced the ball on the edge of the cup and tapped in for a most disappointing birdie. Were they correct? — EDGAR R. LYTLE, VIA EMAIL

Forget the Rules of Golf — your playing partners don’t even know the Bill of Rights, which prohibits “cruel and unusual punishment.” You was robbed, Edgar. That ace was yours. It ruffles my feathery when a misreading of the Rules costs someone strokes — or in this case, the ultimate golf glory. Rule 16-2 covers a ball that’s overhanging the hole. You are allowed the time to reach your ball without unreasonable delay, and are then granted a further 10 seconds to determine if the ball is at rest. Since you hadn’t reached the green when your tee shot tumbled into the jar, you indeed made an ace. (Now then, had you reached the ball and exceeded the 10 seconds, after which time your ball fell, the shot would still be considered holed by the previous stroke but with a one-stroke penalty added.) My advice? You can’t go back in time, but you can go back to the 19th hole. Have your golf buddies treat you to a glass or two of the good stuff. They owe you a round of drinks for the 1 that should have been.