Diary of a USGA Rules Official: Embedded Ball & Chipping Practice

Before substituting a ball in a bunker, a player may touch the sand on practice swings and remove loose impediments. 

Dr. Robin Farran teaches Advanced Rules at the Golf Academy of America and is one of the country’s preeminent USGA Rules Officials. He’s also kind enough to send out weekly Rules installments.

In this week’s Diary of a USGA Rules Official, Dr. Farran reviews Rules involving bunkers, an embedded ball, and chipping practice.

Back in the Bunker
Player C’s ball lies through the green in an extremely difficult lie. Player C informs his fellow-competitors that he will proceed under Rule 28b and drop a substituted ball in a bunker.

Prior to dropping the ball, Player C takes a few practice swings in the bunker, touching the sand with each swing, and removes several pine cones from the bunker near where he plans on dropping the ball.  After raking the area in the bunker prior to dropping the ball, Player C drops the ball and completes the hole.

**Player C is permitted to make practice swings touching the sand and is permitted to remove loose impediments from the bunker. The provisions of Rule 13-4 apply when the ball is in the bunker. Player C incurs a two-stroke penalty for improving the area where he intends to drop the ball, a breach of Rule 13-2. [Consideration of Decision 13-2/0.5 could result in no penalty to Player C.]

Player D’s ball played from the teeing ground lies in a bunker that extends from the tee-shot landing zone almost to the putting green. Player D’s second shot lands in the bunker just short of the green. Prior to going forward, Player D smoothed the sand with his feet and his club and, for care of the course, removed a few loose impediments near where he had played his stroke.

**Exception 2 permits Player D to smooth sand where he had just played his stroke in the bunker. Player D incurred a two-stroke penalty in stroke play or loss of hole in match play for moving/removing loose impediments in a bunker when his ball was in the bunker. “Care of the course” does not apply to loose impediments – see Rule 13-4.  Decision 1-4/12 and Decision 13-4/3 remind us how to deal with multiple breaches of the same Rule.

Embedded ball
Once a player plays a stroke at a dropped ball, the original ball becomes a lost ball.

Trouble On Hole No. 17
During a recent stroke-play tournament, after searching for two minutes for his tee shot, a player found a ball and called over a Rules Official asking for assistance to determine if his ball was embedded. The Rules Official told the player to mark and lift his ball. The Rules Official confirmed that the ball was embedded. The player cleaned and dropped the ball as near as possible to where it was embedded. The player then played the ball onto the putting green.

When the player reached the putting green, he again called for assistance from the official, stating to the Rules Official, “The ball that was embedded and I dropped was a wrong ball”.

**The ball found by the player embedded in the ground was a “wrong ball” and when the ball was dropped became a “substituted ball” and a the “ball in play”. When the player played a stroke at the dropped ball, the player’s original ball became a “lost ball”.

When the player played a stroke at the substituted ball, without finding his original ball, the player is deemed to have proceeded under penalty of stroke a distance, a serious breach due to playing from a wrong place with a significant advantage.

The player must return to the teeing ground to play his 5th stroke on hole #17.

See Definitions of “Ball in Play”, “Lost Ball” and “Substituted Ball”, Rule 27-1a and Decisions 27-1/3, 15/14, 20-7c/3, 28/15 and 34-3/6.

Tee shot – 1s
Play from a wrong place, serious breach – 2p under Rule 27-1
Stroke and distance penalty for a lost ball – 1p under Rule 27-1

Chipping practice
Under Rule 7-2, a player must not make a practice stroke during play of a hole.

Chipping Practice
Player A and Player B, not being familiar with the Rules of Golf, while waiting for the putting green to clear during a stroke-play competition, decide to practice chipping.

Player A’s ball in play is on the right side of the fairway and Player B is waiting on the left side of the fairway. Player A calls out to Player B that he will chip his ball from where it lay on the fairway to Player B and he should chip it back.

Player A and Player B chip the ball to each other twice before the green clears. Player A not being certain where his original ball lay drops his ball as near as possible to where it originally lay.

An official who appeared just as the activities completed approached the players for a discussion.

**Player B incurs a two-stroke penalty for a breach of Rule 7-2, practice during play of a hole. Player B breached Rule 7-2 twice and incurs a single penalty for multiple breaches of the same Rule – see Decision 1-4/12, item 3.

Player A’s stroke at his ball in play is considered a practice stroke, not meeting the Definition of “Stroke” as it was not Player A’s intent to continue play of the hole when he hit his ball in play to Player B.

Player A breached two Rules; Rule 7-2, practice during play of a hole, and moved his ball in play, a breach of Rule 18-2. Player A incurs a single penalty of two strokes, a single act that breached two Rules – see Decision 1-4/12, item 4, and the more severe Penalty applies – see Decision 1-4/15.

Player A must replace the ball that was moved as prescribed by Rule 18-2 and Rule 20-3. If the lie had been altered, Rule 20-3b would apply. Otherwise, as in this incident, Player A would proceed under Rule 20-3c and drop the ball as near as possible to where it lay.

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