We've all left a putt so agonisingly short that it looks like it could fall into the hole at any moment. Our Rules of Golf expert explains how to proceed
Was it in, wasn’t it? Si Woo Kim’s Rules of Golf drama at the 2021 RBC Heritage caused something of a kerfuffle among golf watchers – and it’s a position so many of us find ourselves in time and time again.
In the South Korean’s case, his birdie putt hung over the hole and he waited for more than a minute for it to drop. He then found himself picking up a penalty under Rule 13.3a.
Now, plenty was said about this and the unique circumstances he found himself in – as he thought his ball was still moving – and my colleague Barry Plummer got into it in The Slam.
But while an oscillating ball might be unusual, a ball that teeters over the edge of the hole is far more common.
So, if you find yourself in this spot, don’t worry. Here’s how to proceed…
Rules of Golf explained: Our expert says
Sometimes you need to flit around the rule book to find a complete answer but not here. Everything you could possibly need to know is neatly wrapped up in Rule 13.3 – Ball Overhanging Hole.
If any part of your ball is overhanging the lip, you are allowed a reasonable time to reach the hole and then a further 10 seconds to wait and see whether it will drop.
If it does, you’ve holed out with your previous stroke. If it doesn’t, the ball is then treated as being at rest. Here’s where Si Woo Kim fell foul as, in the Rules, once those 10 seconds had elapsed it didn’t matter whether it was oscillating or moving.
If the ball then falls into the hole before it has been played, you are classed as having holed out with your previous stroke but you add one penalty stroke to your score for the hole.
What counts as “reasonable time” to reach the hole? An interpretation to 13.3a says determining that “depends on the circumstances of the stroke and includes time for the player’s natural or spontaneous reaction to the ball not going into the hole”.
What if the ball is lifted, or moved, before the waiting time has finished?
Rule 13.3b says it must be replaced on the lip of the hole and the waiting time no longer applies.
If it’s deliberately moved by your opponent in match play, the rules say it’s holed under the previous stroke. If it’s deliberately moved or lifted by another player in stroke play, they’re going to get a two-shot penalty and the ball must be replaced on its original spot.
There’s one more thing to consider and, again, we must return to the interpretations. What happens if a ball that’s overhanging the hole moves when you take out the flagstick?
Did you cause it to move? If not, and the ball falls in, then Rule 13.3a applies. If it’s “known or virtually certain” that removing the flagstick caused the ball to move, replace it on the lip.
You won’t get penalised because the flagstick is classed as a movable obstruction.
Have a question for our Rules of Golf expert?
Despite the simplification of the Rules of Golf at the beginning of 2019, there are still some that leave us scratching our heads. And as I’ve passed the R&A’s level 2 rules exam with distinction, I am more than happy to help.
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