Ask The Rules Guy: What Happens If My Ball Disappears Under a Mower?

Yes, this is an outside agency.
Jason Raish


Dear Rules Guy: My shot rolled left of the cart path and into the rough. A lawn mower then ran over my ball, which disappeared. Deciding that the mower was an outside agency, I didn't take a penalty. But my opponent said my ball was lost, and that the penalty should be stroke and distance. Who's right?

— Chuck Sellner, via e-mail

A: The mower — whose operator no doubt accepted $20 from your opponent before the match — is an outside agency. (Except for when it's parked in the maintenance shed, where it's an inside agency. Sorry, just a little rules humor.) According to Rule 18-1, if it's "virtually certain" that the mower moved the ball, you may take a free drop at the estimated spot where the ball came to rest.


Rules Man! I hacked at my ball in the rough underneath a tree, but my club caught a branch, and I missed the ball completely. I'd mangled the branch just enough to be able to hit the ball on my next swing, so I counted one stroke for the whiff and one for the contact. Did I break any rule for damaging the tree?

— Ed Patmalnieks, Rotonda West, Fla.

A: Now that's a switch: A club that finds tree trouble. There's no penalty for breaking the branch, and you properly disciplined yourself. Under Rule 14-1, the first stroke counts, because you intended to hit the ball. Now, if the mangled branch hung from an endangered tree — a Cuban mahogany, say, or a Seussian Truffula — you'd have your conscience to deal with. But rules-wise, you're good.


Rules Guru: During a recent round, my opponent kept placing his cigar down behind his ball before every tee shot, seemingly pointing to the fairway. He was clearly using his cigar as an alignment aid! Is this a rules violation regarding the use of training devices during play?

— Joe Quinn, Wilmington, Del.

A: With apologies to Freud, sometimes a cigar isn't just a cigar. Rule 8-2a states that any mark introduced by a player to indicate a line must be removed before the stroke is made. In a match, you would win the holes where the violation occurred; in stroke play, it's a two-stroke penalty per incident.


Hey, Rules Guy: My pal marked his ball. When it was his turn to putt, he dropped his ball on the green, tapped it with his putter until it was in front of his marker, then picked up his marker and putted out. Did he commit a "placing" violation?

— Kevin Kehoe, Norristown, Pa.

A: Your buddy's casual method shows contempt for etiquette, but he broke no rules. Decision 16-1d/3 lets a player use such a technique when replacing a marked ball, as long as he isn't testing the surface. So, an inch or two? Tap away. But 30 feet of tapping? That's a problem.

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