John Morrissett, Competitions Director at Erin Hills and former Director of Rules of Golf for the USGA, offers answers to the game’s great rules mysteries.
Q. Zach thins a bunker shot from the left greenside bunker into the right greenside bunker. He rakes the area in the left bunker and plays his shot from the right bunker. That bunker shot comes to rest in the area he had just raked in the left bunker. What is the ruling?
A. There is no penalty. Once Zach hit his first bunker shot out of the left bunker, he was entitled to rake that bunker without restriction, and there is no penalty if his ball returns to that area from outside the bunker.
Q. As Jim and Ben leave the tee of the par-3 ninth hole in an individual stroke-play competition, Jim asks Ben which club Ben hit. Ben replies that he used a 9-iron. What is the ruling?
A. There is no penalty to either player. Such an exchange is not a breach of the Advice Rule as both players have played their tee shots on that hole (i.e., that information is not considered to be of assistance to future strokes).
Q. On the 14th hole, Josh hits a wild slice from the tee. The ball may be in the lateral water hazard, or it may be lost outside the hazard in the tall fescue. May he play a provisional ball?
A. Yes, he may play a provisional ball as his original ball might be lost outside the lateral water hazard. The fact that there is also a chance that his ball is in the hazard does not negate this right. A player may not play a provisional ball solely because his original ball may be in a water hazard.
Q. Kelly’s tee shot to the 16th hole finishes on the fringe. There is sand between her ball and the hole, with some of the sand on the fringe and some sand on the green. May she brush the sand away?
A. As sand is considered a loose impediment only when it is on the putting green, Kelly may remove the sand that is on the green but not the sand that is on the fringe.
Q. Brian’s chip shot to the 18th green finishes a few inches from the hole. He removes the flagstick and, while holding the flagstick with his left hand and his putter in his right hand, he taps in the short putt. What is the ruling?
A. As long as the ball did not strike the flagstick and he did not use the flagstick to steady himself, there is no penalty.