By Tim Kilty
There are two changes that we would like to be certain that you are aware of; Rule 12, Searching for and Identifying Ball; and Rule 19, Ball in Motion Deflected or Stopped.
Prior to the change, effective January 1, 2008, if your ball lay in a water hazard or a bunker, you could play the ball, even if it turned out to be a wrong ball, i.e. not your ball in play, without penalty! Why? Because you were not allowed to touch the surface of the water hazard or bunker, except you were allowed to move as much sand to find a ball, but not necessarily identify it. You essentially could have your cake and eat too.
Rule 12-2, Identifying Ball, now states: "If a player has reason to believe a ball at rest is his ball and it is necessary to lift the ball in order to identify it, he may lift the ball, without penalty, in order to do so." The prohibition against doing so in a hazard has been removed. Don't forget that you must still proceed under the rule in that you must announce your intention to your opponent in match play or fellow competitor in stroke play and allow them to observe the lifting and replacing.
While the gods of golf rules i.e. the USGA and the R & A have made things a bit more severe identifying your ball in Rule 12-2, they have relented somewhat when it comes to Rule 19-2, Ball in Motion Deflected or Stopped By Player, Partner, Caddie or Equipment. Evidently it was thought that the penalty did not fit the crime. Prior to January 1, 2008, if the above rule came into effect, it was a two stroke penalty in stroke play and the ball was played as it lay. In match play it was lose of hole. The rule now reads: "If a player's ball is accidentally deflected or stopped by himself, his partner or either of their caddies or equipment, the player incurs a penalty of one stroke." This applies in both stroke play and match play.