Stumped by something you’ve seen out on the course? Our rules expert will find you the answers

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.

Robert Valentini got in touch on email to ask: “In match play, Player A on a par 3 hits a tee shot into the weeds and then a provisional to two feet. If he chooses not to look for the first ball, does Player B or his caddie have three minutes to look?”

Rules of Golf explained: Our expert says…

I love these scenarios where you see the true character of people shine through. Are you going to honour the request, or get knee deep in the thick stuff in a bid to inflict more pain on your opponent?

The answer to this question is found in a couple of interpretations to Rule 18.3c.

If a player doesn’t plan to look for their ball – because they’d prefer to continue play with a provisional ball – they can ask others not to search. But there is no obligation for them to comply.

If a ball is found, the player must make all reasonable efforts to identify it. The full interpretation says that is “provided he or she has not already played the provisional ball from nearer the hole than where the original ball was estimated to be, in which case it became the player’s ball in play”.

If that’s not the case, refusal to make a reasonable effort to identify the found ball may be considered “serious misconduct contrary to the spirit of the game” under Rule 1.2a.

After the other ball is found, if the provisional is played from nearer the hole “than where the other ball was found”, and it turns out the “other ball was the player’s original ball”, then that stroke at the provisional was actually a stroke at a wrong ball.

The player is getting the general penalty which, in match play, is loss of hole.

With me so far? Good. You asked about three minutes. A second interpretation says “even if a player prefers to continue play of the hole with a provisional ball without searching for the original ball, the opponent…may search for the player’s original ball so long as it does not unreasonably delay play”.

There could be some solid reasons for doing that. Like probably winning the hole, for instance.

If the player’s original ball is found while it is still in play, the player must abandon the provisional ball.

What I really like about this particular conundrum is how it could shape up differently depending on whether it’s stroke play or match play.

In the former, another player could be looking for the original ball while Player A simply walks up to the hole and taps in. If they make another stroke with the provisional before the original ball is found, it becomes the ball in play “because it was nearer the hole than the estimated spot of the original ball”.

But in match play, of course, there’s a sequence to things.

If a player’s provisional ball is nearer the hole than the opponent’s, the opponent may cancel the stroke and have the player play in the proper order under Rule 6.4a.

Cancelling the stroke doesn’t change the status of the original ball, which is no longer in play.

But it’s still an epic piece of gamesmanship – and perfectly within the rules.

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