I Think People Are Cheating

There’s not a whole lot you can do about golfing Pinocchios.

People are always writing in to the Rules Guy at golf.com with their rules questions. Only in golf do you see the players asking for clarification. You don’t see it with football, basketball, or baseball. Those rules are pretty widely understood. But if someone asked you how to play golf, have you ever thought about how you would respond? Really! What would you tell them?

The fact of the matter is that golf dishes out its very own brand of confusion every day out on its field of play: the golf course. That’s why I love these “letters to the editor.” Here is the most recent edition:

Rules Guy: I Think Some Club Members Are Cheating
By Rules Guy

Dear Rules Guy:
Many high-handicap golfers play alone at my club during the week and always seem to win easily during weekend competitions. I suspect they’re entering false scores. When a golfer plays alone, must those scores count for handicapping purposes? — Mark, via email

Sam Snead said to never gamble with a stranger, who he defined as anyone you haven’t played with at least a dozen times. A wise man, the Slammer. The unfortunate truth is, some players are going to fib about their scores, as these Pinocchios may well be doing at your club— and there’s not a whole lot you can do about it. But I have some good news for you. The USGA Handicap System is being updated for 2016, and playing alone will be considered an unacceptable score for handicap posting. Handicaps are also subject to peer review, meaning that it’s up to a club’s handicap committee to determine if a player’s index accurately reflects his or her potential. So if a player consistently posts suspiciously lower scores in competitions, your club’s handicap committee has the authority to adjust that player’s index to reflect his or her current ability.

When you mark
If you didn’t cause your marker to move, you can estimate where it was and replace your ball without penalty.

Question, Rules Man:
I marked my 40-foot birdie putt with an old penny, then pulled the flag for one of my playing partners. But when it was my turn, I couldn’t find the mark, and after five minutes I gave up the search. I should have been penalized, right? — Thomas, Charlotte

Well, aren’t you a doubting Thomas. Actually, a lost marker isn’t the same as a lost ball. If you didn’t cause the marker to move, you can just estimate where the penny was and replace your ball (no closer to the hole) without penalty. If you did cause it to move, however, it’s a one-stroke penalty.

Hey Rules Guru:
I have a tricky one for you. My buddy hit his tee shot on a par-3 into the woods. He took a provisional and knocked it to two inches! As his group got close to the green, a playing partner of his spotted a ball in the bushes. My friend declined to identify that ball because he wanted to play the second ball, which was a tap-in bogey. Was what he did legal? — Pete, via email

In short: No. Once a player hits a provisional, the Rules don’t require him to look for his original ball. However, according to Decision 27-2c/2, if the ball may have been found, even accidentally, then it can’t be ignored. (Your friend’s refusal to identify his ball could result in disqualification, per Decision 27/13.) And if said ball is his, any other strokes made with the provisional would equate to playing the wrong ball, which carries a penalty of loss of hole in match play or two strokes in stroke play. Now, had your pal not declared a provisional and taken the stroke-and-distance penalty on the tee, his kick-in bogey would be A-OK.

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