Hey Rules Guy, flowing water carried my ball back to the tee! Where do I drop?

April 17, 2018

Got a question about the Rules? Ask the Rules Guy — he won’t throw the book at you!

While driving from the third green to the fourth tee, my golf bag fell off the cart and my putter took a head-on hit. Though still usable, the shaft was bent to the point where aiming was difficult. Since the club wasn’t damaged in anger, could I have replaced it mid-round? —NEAL GARDNER, VIA E-MAIL

Hmmm…Sigmund Freud said there are no accidents — are you sure the bag just “fell off the cart”? Never mind — I digress. In this scenario, your putter is considered damaged in the normal course of play. Under Rule 4-3a, you can use the club in its current state, or repair it or have it repaired without unduly delaying play. You can only replace the club if it’s deemed unfit for play — say, if the shaft was broken or the face dented. Soldier on, and strap in tight!

My friend and I were playing after a huge storm had left both standing and moving water in several areas. On one hole, my drive found dry land in the fairway, but his flew into flowing water. The current then took his ball 75 feet back toward the tee! He argued for a drop at the nearest point of relief from where the ball first hit the water. I countered that the ball had never come to rest, and that he therefore must find the nearest point of relief from where it stopped. Who was correct? —GEORGE JAMES, GREENWICH, CONN.

Sadly, given recent weather events, such conditions no longer seem outlandish. Ruleswise, you’re more or less right, but your buddy is all wet. He can take relief from where the ball came to rest — but it doesn’t matter whether or not the ball had previously come to rest. Water isn’t considered an outside agency (unlike, say, a duck floating in water), so nothing in the rules allows a player to replace a ball moved by water. That said, you might wait for the course to dry out next time.

I heard Phil Mickelson talk about using the black and white Callaway “soccer” ball. This got me thinking: Would the one-ball rule prohibit a player from using the same brand and model of ball, but in a different color, during the same round? —JEREMY BELKO, MERRILLVILLE, IND.

Color me impressed by your thoughtful question…but the “one-ball rule” isn’t a Rule. It is a Condition of Competition that resides in Appendix 1, Part B, Item 1c. (Given that far-flung address, no wonder it gets so little mail.) When the one-ball condition is in effect, a player must stick with the same color, because the ball must be detailed by a single entry on the conforming ball list, and balls of different colors are listed as separate entries. Please note that this Condition of Competition is only recommended for serious professional and amateur events. In the D-flight or a charity scramble, there should be no, um, “hue” and cry to put it into effect.

I saw Rory McIlroy hit practice balls with a golf glove under his left armpit to help keep that arm tight to his chest. On the range, this tip immediately improved my ballstriking. Is this legal during competition, or would the glove be considered an illegal aid? —ALLAN REID, THE VILLAGES, FLA.

While fine for practice, a glove under the armpit during an actual stroke would create a rules stink — it’s a breach of Rule 14-3, which covers equipment assisting play. The first offense would be the general penalty (loss of hole in match play or two strokes in stroke play); the second, disqualification. Here’s a related tip: Buy an oversize shirt and tuck the excess fabric under your armpit. A trick used by some Tour pros, it’s permissible during the stroke. You’ll look fat, but you might not hit it that way.


Of course you do! Whatever it may be, send yours to [email protected] and the question may be answered in an upcoming issue of GOLF. Until then, play by the Rules!