Diary of a USGA Rules Official: Friendly Reminders

USGA flags
Even if they were correct, the timing of the USGA’s rulings at the U.S. Open Championships was unfortunate.

It’s been a rough couple of months for the USGA. After-the-fact rulings nearly derailed an otherwise exciting couple of majors in both the Men’s and Women’s U.S. Open Championships.

The good news is that Dr. Robin Farran had nothing to do with the USGA’s unfortunate ruling procedure. Dr. Farran is widely regarded as one of the preeminent Rules Officials in the country and currently teaches Advanced Rules at the Golf Academy of America in Phoenix.

In this week’s Diary of a USGA Rules Official, Dr. Farran’s weekly Rules installment, the officials really have their hands full!

Hole No. 13
At scoring, a competitor in a USGA Qualifier had the following account of his play on hole #13. Player comments are highlighted in blue. The Rules are highlighted in red. There were no Local Rules in effect that are relevant to this incident:

“My tee shot headed left towards the pond between the two fairways.  All of us in our group saw a splash but I thought it might have cleared the hazard.  I played a provisional ball that landed in about the same place so I announced and played a second provisional ball.”

[In the discussion at scoring it became clear that the player was sure that the first ball played from the tee was either in the water hazard or in the short grass just beyond the hazard.]

“When I went forward I found my ball in the water hazard and played the ball.”

[The player was informed that the first ball played from the tee was not his ball in play and the stroke played from the hazard was a stroke with a wrong ball.]

The player then said: “Well, when I found my ball in the water hazard I wasn’t sure what to do so I told the players in my group that I would play the ball in the hazard and the second provisional ball that was in the right fairway. I said that I wanted the ball in the water hazard to count. I played both balls into the hole.”

When in doubt
Rule 3-3 allows a competitor to complete a hole with two balls… without penalty.

**The player, after playing 3 balls from the tee on hole #13, had a
doubt as to how to proceed; continue with the original ball or the 3rd ball played from the tee. The player met the requirements of Rule 3-3 and, fortunately, finished the hole with both balls.

As there was no belief that the original ball may be lost outside a water hazard or out of bounds, the player was not entitled to play a provisional ball – see Rule 27-2a and Decision 27-2a/3.

When the second ball was played from the tee, the original ball became a lost ball -see item “e” in Definition of “Lost Ball”. The third ball played from the tee caused the 2nd ball to be a lost ball. The third ball played from the tee was the player’s ball in play.

[See Decision 34-3/6 for guidance as to the Committee’s determination of the applicable Rule when a player proceeds under an inapplicable Rule.]

The 3rd ball played from the tee was the ball that must count for the hole and the player lay 5 with that ball prior to his next stroke to complete the hole. Although the original ball was a wrong ball, there is no penalty for playing a stroke with a wrong ball when Rule 3-3 is applicable and that ball does not count for the score – see Rule 3-3 and Note 3 under Rule 3-3.

The following incidents are in individual stroke play:

1. As Player A approaches the putting green, Player A finds his ball on the fringe and sees a ball from someone in his group about 5 feet farther from the green behind his ball in the short rough. To be thoughtful, Player A marks and lifts his ball so that his ball does not interfere with another player’s play. Player A cleans his ball and replaces it on the fringe.

**Except on the putting green, a player is not permitted to lift a ball that might interfere with another player’s play without a request from the other player. Player A incurs a penalty of one stroke under Rule 18-2. See Rule 22-2. There is no additional penalty for cleaning the ball – see Note 1 to Rule 22-2 and Decision 21/4.

2. Player B and Player C have the same line to the hole on the putting green. It is Player C’s turn to play. Player B stands behind Player C while Player C putts.

Rule 14-2
Rule 14-2b refers to the positioning of a caddie or partner behind the ball.

**Rule 14-2b prohibits a partner or caddie from being positioned behind the player while a stroke is made. There is no prohibition for a fellow-competitor who stands behind the player during a stroke (presuming no serious breach of etiquette). Player B is permitted to stand (quietly) at reasonable distance behind Player C while Player C plays a stroke.

3. Player D picks up a ball on the putting green believing the ball is a stray ball. The ball is the ball in play of a fellow-competitor.

**Rule 18-4 is the applicable Rule. Player D is not penalized. The ball may be replaced by Player D or the owner of the ball – see Rule 20-3a.

4. While Player E’s ball after a stroke on the green rolls towards a flagstick that was placed on the fringe, Player F picks up the flagstick to prevent Player E’s ball from striking the flagstick.

**Rule 24-1 clarifies that when a ball is in motion after a stroke a flagstick that has been removed may be moved even if the movement of the flagstick might influence the movement of the ball. No penalty is incurred by Player F.

June Incidents
In each incident, the official was called over and the player reviewed the relevant facts and requested guidance. These incidents were all in stroke-play competitions.

1. Player A, playing in a USGA Qualifier where the “One-Ball” Rule was in effect, explained to the official that he began the hole with a Titleist ball and when taking relief from the lateral water hazard on hole #5 dropped and played a TaylorMade ball, just now discovered on the #5 green.

**Player A incurred a two-stroke penalty for a breach of the “One-Ball” Condition of Competition. Player A must correct the error prior to start of hole #6 or be disqualified. See Appendix I, Part B, item 1c. [Player A may also substitute the correct ball prior to completing hole #5.]

The teeing ground is a rectangular area two club-lengths in depth.
The teeing ground is a rectangular area two club-lengths in depth.

2. Player B, after playing 3 strokes on hole #12, called over an official to explain that he had played from outside the markers when starting hole #12.

**Player B incurred a two-stroke penalty for a breach of Rule 11-4b and must return to #12 teeing ground and play the hole from within the teeing ground. The strokes played from outside the teeing ground do not count in Player B’s score for the hole.

3. Player C was sure that the ball on the cart path was his ball played from the teeing ground. Player C lifted, dropped and played the ball. When Player C reached the green, Player C discovered that the ball he lifted and dropped was not the ball he played from the tee. Player C called over a nearby official.

**Player C’s original ball became lost when Player C dropped and played the substituted ball – see item “e” in the Definition of “Lost Ball”.  Player C incurs a two-stroke penalty for playing from a wrong place (since Rule 27-1 applies, any place other than where Player C last played is a wrong place) and Player C gained a significant advantage. Player C must return to the teeing ground to correct a serious breach of play from a wrong place. Player C will lie 5 after replaying from the teeing ground. 

See Decision 27-1/3 and Note 1 to Rule 20-7. 

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