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Which ball is in play? part 1

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This week, I would like us to tackle the critical issue of identifying a golf ball in play.

This subject is so critical such that one could be disqualified for failing to identify his or her ball.

Let us look at the following scenario I came across a few days ago:

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“In a strokes competition, a player hits his tee shot in left rough. He goes to look for his ball, without finding it after a brief search; he returns to the tee and hits a second ball into the same area. While looking for the second ball and finding a ball, a spectator advises that the ball he found is in the area where the first ball landed. Player cannot determine whether the ball he found is his first or second tee shot as both balls were marked the same. They were both Titleist 3 red number. The player then plays the ball found through the hole and asks for help in scoring to determine his score for the hole.”

Initially, I thought that Situation 4 in Decision 27/11 provided the answer to this question (see below for the rulings on four interesting situations relating to a player who cannot distinguish between their original ball and their provisional ball in this Decision), but I have been corrected and I think that it is worth explaining where I went wrong.

When a provisional ball is played onto the course there are two possible outcomes; the original ball may be found in bounds, in which case the provisional ball is then out of play, or the original ball is lost, in which case the provisional ball is the ball in play.

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The mistake that I was making in respect of the above question is that when the player returned to the teeing ground and put another ball in play, without announcing it as a provisional ball, the first ball was immediately lost.

So, when the player could not distinguish whether the ball that was found by the spectator was his original ball (lost and not in play under the Rules) or the second ball (the ball in play under the Rules), he was not permitted to assume that the found ball was his second ball.

Therefore, his only way to proceed within the Rules was to return to the teeing ground and play another ball, his fifth stroke. Failure to do so meant that he was disqualified from the strokes competition, because he did not hole out with the correct ball.

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