Golf Rules Q & A

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Q.  Can you tee it up inside the tee box but stand outside of it? — Chris via Twitter

A.  Absolutely.  The rules only care about where the ball is when you strike it off the tee, not whether you are in the tee box according to USGA Rule 11.  In fact, if you watch any golf tournament, you will see at least one hole where several players will tee the ball up on the edge of the tee box and stand outside of it.  For a right-handed player, it’s most common that they have the ball teed up near the left tee box marker and then stand outside the box.  It is often so that the player can aim more down the right edge of the fairway and therefore play away from danger on the left.  That way, even if they fade the ball some, it won’t get them in trouble.  So stand outside the box and swing away!

Q.  I hear the phrase “stroke and distance” sometimes.  What does that mean?  — Dawn S. – New York NY

A.  Basically this means you have to replay a shot and take a penalty stroke.  For example, if you hit a ball out of bounds, your penalty is a “stroke” and you lose all the “distance” your ball traveled because you have to replay it from where you last hit it.  If you hit a ball out of bounds on your drive (that’s one stroke), you add the penalty (now you have two strokes) and are re-hitting (which will be your third stroke).  Technically it isn’t a two-stroke penalty, but it has the effect of being a two-stroker since wherever your second drives ends up, you’ll be lying three instead of one.

Q.  While I was playing an early morning round with one of my buddies, I hit my drive into the rough on the first hole.  The maintenance guys were still out on one of them drove his lawnmower right over where my ball was.  When I got to the ball, it was still there, but the blades of the mower cut into the cover of the ball.  My partner said that I had to finish the hole with that ball, so I did and I ended up losing the hole.  I was then in such a funk that I ended up getting down quickly and never recovered, losing the match 5&4.  Was my partner right? — Ben S., Piedmont CA

A.  Your partner owes you at least a drink, Ben, since he was dead wrong on this one.  Generally, you need to finish a hole with the ball you started with, but there are exceptions and a damaged ball is one of those exceptions.  If a ball’s cover is cut or your ball is no longer round you can replace it, free of penalty.  Make sure you tell your partner of your intention, mark the location of the ball, pick it up and give your partner a chance to examine it.  If the ball is damaged, place a substitute ball in the spot where the damaged ball had been.  All free of penalty.  USGA Rule 5-3

Q.  My drive hit the cart path on the fly, struck a golf club that was lying on the path and then careened way right into the rough behind a tree.  Do I get to replay my shot? — Stan M., Trenton MI

A.  Unfortunately, Stan, you don’t get to replay your shot — at least without penalty.  Just because a ball hits a cart path or club (or rock, tree, sign or even a competitor) you don’t get relief.  You need to play it as it lies, unless you plan to take relief for another reason such as an unplayable lie or the ball is out of bounds or in a lateral or water hazard.  Sorry, Stan.  USGA Rule 13-1

Q.  I was playing in a match as part of a tournament.  My opponent was closer to the hole but he was off the green, and I was further from the hole and I was on the green.   Both of us agree that this was the case.  But he played first and chipped it to tap-in distance.  I thought he should lose the hole because he played out of turn, but he said there was no penalty because he was off the green and I was on the green.  What’s the story?  — Jim P., New York NY

A.  Jim, neither of you were exactly right, but you were closer to being right!  In match play, the honor goes to the person who is furthest from the hole.  It doesn’t matter if someone is on the green and someone is off the green, the only thing that matters is distance.  If you are further from the hole, it is your turn.   If your opponent plays before you in this circumstance, you have the option of having him replay the shot.  In this case, since he chipped it to tap-in distance, you can have him pick it up and replace the ball where it was and hit another chip shot — after you have played your shot.  There is not a loss of hole and there is no penalty, but you get to decide whether he has to replay the shot.   One other thing, you have to decide whether you are going to have him re-hit his shot or not before you take your turn.  Once you play your ball, you lose the option and play continues.  (Here’s the real tip:  If you are further and you see your guy lining up his shot, tell him it isn’t his turn.  It could get nasty otherwise!)   USGA Rule 10-1-c

Q: If you are playing green side bunker shot, and you walk up to the green to suss your shot out, and your club hits the fringe as you walk back to the ball unintentionally (in motion from walking back) is that deemed testing the surface? I’ve tried looking it up and all it says is you can’t test the green, nothing on fringe or fairway or anything.  It was in motion from walking back to the bunker, just didn’t know if that’s testing the surface from firmness or anything. — Tyler, unknown

A: Well, Tyler, if the fringe is around the bunker, it’s not a problem since a sand bunker does not extend vertically (USGA Decision 13/3), so you are free to hit that fringe.  If the fringe is the edge of the green, that’s no worry either.  You are allowed to touch the club to the green anywhere except on the line of your putt.  Otherwise, you are free to ground your club on the green, on the fringe, or on the fairway.  Play away!