Searching for and identifying your ball
This rule sounds straightforward, but it’s not, so here are a few guidelines you ought to bear in mind when looking for your ball or while in the process of trying to identify it. You can touch or bend long grass, rushes, bushes, heather or the like, but only to the extent necessary to find and identify your ball. Your actions must not improve the lie of the ball, the area of your intended swing or line of play
If your ball is completely buried in a bunker, you are allowed to brush aside as much sand as necessary to see part of your ball – but no more. It does not matter if you cannot identify it, because there is no penalty for playing a wrong ball in a hazard,
The need to identify your ball cannot
be used as an excuse to improve your lie. So if you need to lift your ball from deep rough to see that it is yours, you must replace it in exactly the same lie. Before lifting your ball, though, you must mark its position and inform whoever you are playing with of your intentions. They are then obliged to observe that you proceed correctly and in accordance with the Rules. A breach of this Rule incurs a penalty of one stroke.
Ball played as it lies, lie of the ball, area of intended swing and line of play;
The first phrase of this section is easily dealt with – you play the ball as it lies unless otherwise stated in the Rules. One of the more blatant examples of a breach of this Rule is treading down the grass behind your ball in the rough so that it sits up better. That is not allowed. However, you can tread down behind your ball on the tee.
When it comes to dealing with improving your lie, area of intended swing or line of play, you need to proceed very carefully. It’s a tough rule to abbreviate, so we’ll deal first with the definitions and then provide you with a few examples to illustrate the point,
You cannot improve:
1 the lie of your ball;
2 the area of your intended swing;
3 the line of play; or
4 any area where you are about to drop your ball, by any of the following actions:
a) moving, bending or breaking anything growing or fixed (that includes immovable obstructions and objects defining out of bounds), or
b) removing or pressing down sand, loose soil, replaced divots, other cut
turf placed in position or other irregularities of surface,
The above restrictions do not apply if you are in mid-swing, or smoothing out irregularities on the teeing ground, Neither do they come into effect if you are simply removing sand and loose soil as provided in Rule 16 or in repairing damage as also provided in Rule 16.
Again, you are not restricted if you are in the course of fairly taking your stance. Note the emphasis on ‘fairly’ -we’ll expand shortly on the exact meaning of that word.
Building a stance is not allowed, The definition states that a player is entitled to place his feet firmly in taking his stance, but he shall not build a stance.
When your ball is lying in, or touching, a hazard you cannot test the condition of the hazard or ground the club – the most obvious example of this being the necessity for you to hover the clubhead above the sand in a bunker, it is also a breach of the Rules if the clubhead touches the sand in the backswing, Neither can you touch or move a loose impediment, such as a leaf or a twig, lying in or touching the hazard. You can, however, dispose of movable obstructions,
These are artificial objects, likely examples being a bottle, a cigarette end or a sweet wrapper. Finally, if you’re brave enough to attempt a shot from a water hazard, you cannot allow the clubhead to touch the water before the stroke.
Now for a few practical examples.
• Let’s deal first with that expression fairly taking a stance, if your ball comes to rest in a bush or up against some trees, you cannot go charging in like a raging bull. Back in gently by all means – just be careful, though.
• You cannot bend or hook one branch behind another to help clear the area of your intended swing. Neither can you stand on branches to stop them interfering with your swing. It goes without saying that you can’t break them, either.
• Now for a real-life example which nicely illustrates the point about building a stance. In 1987, US tour professional Craig Stadler ran into trouble during a tournament when he knelt on a towel to prevent his trousers getting wet while playing an awkward recovery shot- Innocent though his actions were, this was a clear breach of the ‘building a stance’ rule and he was disqualified. He would also have been in breach of Rule 13 had he knelt on his waterproof trousers, but not if he had put the trousers on first. Such are the idiosyncrasies of the Rules of Golf.
Striking the ball
Let us first refer to the exact definition, A stroke is the forward momentum of the club made with the intention of fairly striking at and moving the ball, but if a player checks his downswing voluntarily before the clubhead reaches the ball he is deemed not to have made a stroke. It follows, then, that the ball should be fairly struck at with the head of the club and must not be pushed, scraped or spooned. So if your ball comes to rest an inch from a fence, then it is fair to say that any attempt to move the ball is unlikely to be a hit. Your backswing would be non-existent so the ruling would have to be that you pushed or scooped the ball.
In making a stroke, you should not accept physical assistance or protection from the elements. So in pouring rain you are quite entitled to have your caddie hold an umbrella over you as you prepare to putt. But once you address the ball he must move away.
The clause that prevents you from using artificial devices or unusual equipment is best illustrated with a few examples. Some of the items you cannot use are: any kind of distance meter; a compass to determine wind direction; any kind of golf ball warmer; audio tapes containing instructional material. Items you can use are: weighted headcovers for use in practice swings; a handkerchief wrapped around a club in the rain; a handwarmer.
Striking the ball more than once, in other words perpetrating a double hit, not only is embarrassing but will also cost you the penalty of one stroke. But you are unlikely to double-hit with such disastrous consequences as did a tournament professional named T.C. Chen in the 1985 US Open. Cruising along with a big lead in the final round, he had a double hit from deep rough and went on to take a quadruple-bogey eight. That was the beginning of the end for Chen.
Playing a moving ball is a confusing Rule. Basically, it’s not allowed and any breach carries a two-stroke penalty. However, there are exceptions. If your ball falls off the tee in the middle of your backswing, and you don’t have the presence of mind to stop your swing, then the chances are you’re going to hit a moving ball. The good news is that you’re notpenalized for this under Rule 14. The bad news is that you are penalized under Rule 18 and thus receive a one-stroke penalty. You are allowed to hit a ball moving in water, although it isn’t recommended.
Playing a wrong ball
Strictly speaking, the term ‘wrong ball’ should mean a ball that doesn’t belong to you . . . shouldn’t it? Sadly, it isn’t that simple. You can play a wrong ball, even if it belongs to you.
Here’s the official line. A wrong ball is any ball other than:
1 the ball in play;
2 a provisional ball; or
3 in strokeplay, a second ball played under Rule 3-3 or 20-7b.
(Please consult the full Rules of Golf for coverage of these sections, which cannot easily be condensed here.) Basically, you cannot substitute a ball during a hole unless the rules specifically allow you to do so, Therefore, you can’t swap to your ‘lucky’ putting ball when you reach the green. There must be a good reason for exchanging a ball.
If you breach this rule in matchplay, you’re out of the hole, although in a fourball match your partner is not affected. In strokeplay, you incur a two-stroke penalty when you play a wrong ball and do not play any more shots with that ball. You must then return to the spot from where you played the wrong ball and proceed with the correct one- If you don’t, you are disqualified.