We would have bet money, real money, that once a ball is in play on a hole that anytime the club strikes a ball it would be counted as a stroke. And we would have lost that money. It goes to show you that even people who love the Rules of Golf have more to learn.
At the Players Championship 2014 during the second round, John Huh stepped up to the famous par-3 17th tee and put his tee shot in the water. As he trudged to the drop area lying two, he knocked his shot to about 3 feet. When it was his turn to putt, he put his ball down and picked up his mark, then took a practice putt. On this practice putt, the tip of his putter ticked the ball and the ball edged to the right and then came back to where it started. So the facts are that Huh hit his ball accidentally, that there was movement in the ball but that the ball returned and came to rest where it started.
Huh did the right thing. He called for a rules official and explained what he believed occurred. Huh then putted out, gently marked down a bogey 4, and continued on his round. The rules official went back to view the television replays of the event. Confirming that he did strike the ball accidentally, and that the ball returned to its original location, the ruling was made that there was no penalty.
As hard as this is to believe — that you can hit a ball with your club and have it not count — the rules support this no penalty ruling, although perhaps by omission. Lets look at the USGA Rules and Decisions. We know that if a ball oscillates during address that no penalty is occurred (oscillates being defined as having movement but not moving its position). We also know that if a player accidentally moves a ball (move being defined as changing its position), then the ball must be placed back to its original position with a one stroke penalty. But the rules seem to expect that if a player hits his ball accidentally that the ball will move, or better said it doesn’t seem to anticipate that a player can accidentally hit his ball but not have the ball move. Decision 18/2a-20 indicates that if a player doesn’t intend to hit the ball, no stroke has occurred — but that the ball must be placed back in its original position with a one stroke penalty. Since Huh didn’t intend to hit his ball, there is no stroke. And since the ball did not move (change position), then there is no replacement required and therefore no one stroke penalty.
All this is to say, Huh was very lucky. The chances of nicking a ball accidentally but not having it change positions is very small. However, it was his day and his bogey 4 stands.
It does make us wonder, though, if we may see a rule or decision in the next year or two that gives a one stroke penalty for accidentally striking a ball whether it moves or not. That is certainly what we would have expected to be the case before this incident.
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