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February 2010
By Clyde Luther

If a player is in doubt as to procedure, he may complete the hole with two balls, without penalty

There are times when playing the game of golf that we don't know how to proceed.  Do I get relief from this bad spot or am I allowed to drop the ball from this obstruction?

Sometimes we don't know, but we have a great Rule to take care of the situation, one that is not used often enough but is written to help and seldom gets you in trouble. It's Rule 3-3: Doubt as to Procedure. Let this be a caution: The Rule only applies to stroke play and is not available in match play. If you attempt to play a second ball under this Rule during match play, you're playing a wrong ball.

If you find yourself not knowing what to do, you're allowed to follow the procedure which permits you to drop a second ball if you think you are entitled to relief from a situation and play both balls into the hole.

First, you must follow the procedure stated in the Rules book. Before dropping your second ball you must:

  1. Announce to your fellow-competitors or opponent your intentions.
  2. Notify your fellow-competitor or marker which ball of the two you're going to play that you want to count if the Committee approves of your procedure. (I know that you are probably thinking that you always want the second ball to count, but that?s not always true.)
  3. Importantly, no matter what you score with the two balls, you must report to the Committee. If you do not report this information, you're disqualified.

Let's look at a couple of examples of this Rule in action. At the Bank of Tennessee Intercollegiate at The Ridges a few years ago, Wake Forest senior Webb Simpson, called for a Rules Official. Simpson informed me that he played two balls because he didn't know how to proceed after dropping from a lateral water hazard and the ball rolled near the line, but he had to stand in the hazard. Not knowing whether he had to redrop, Simpson played a second ball. I asked him whether he announced which ball he wanted to count. Since he did not announce, the original ball had to count since he played it in accordance with the Rules. Even if he had made the proper announcement, the original ball would have counted since he played it in accordance with the Rules.

In another situation at a college event, a competitor played two balls because his original ball came to rest in a tire rut caused by a maintenance vehicle during early morning work. In this case, the competitor properly announced that he was playing a second ball and that he wanted the second ball to count. He completed play of the hole, scoring a 6 with the ball in the rut and a 4 with the second ball. Upon completion of the round, he reported the second ball to the officials and after reviewing the matter with the player, it was ruled the second ball would count.

At U.S. Amateur Championship sectional qualifying, a player called me to the greenside bunker of a par 3 where his ball was lying in a large footprint. I quickly informed him that he was in a hazard, I didn't think he was entitled to relief and he proceeded to ask for a second opinion. I said "no problem" but I wanted him to play a second ball since there wasn't another official close. The competitor properly followed the correct procedure and indicated he wanted the second ball to count.  He played the ball out of the footprint, his original ball and knocked it close to the hole, scoring a 3 and hit a couple of bad shots with the second ball - the one he wanted to count - scoring a 5.

Upon completion of the round, we proceeded to find another official who promptly looked the situation over and said, "Sorry, no relief."  In this case, his original ball had to count and therefore his score for the hole was 3. The result? The two strokes made the difference in qualifying for the U.S. Amateur; had the second ball been ruled to count, he would not have been one of the qualifiers for the national championship.

Play it smart.  When in doubt, play a second ball under Rule 3-3.

 
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