Could a right-handed player switch to a left-handed stance in order to get free relief, and vice-versa? This is what the Rules of Golf say

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.

Mike Ontiveros got in touch by email bidding to fry my brains with this poser: “It’s a bit of folklore but someone in the group will always recall it happening; I’m talking about relief (opposite of your playing hand).

“For example, Phil Mickelson finds himself in a tough lie and decides hitting the ball right-handed would be the best approach.

“He sets up right-handed and realises that he’s now standing on a path, or has some man-made object in his swing path.

“He takes relief, but now realises that swinging right-handed is no longer needed and proceeds to play the shot left-handed.

“Can this happen and, if not, could you explain why not?”

Rules of Golf explained: Our expert says…

Lefty knows his rules – even when he’s taking a penalty (Exhibit A: Shinnecock Hills) – so he’d be well aware this kind of behaviour on the course comes with a big red cross all over it.

The answer, Mike, is covered under relief from abnormal course conditions in Rule 16.1a (3) – No Relief When Clearly Unreasonable to Play Ball.

That rule says relief is not allowed when “interference exists only because a player chooses a club, type of stance or swing or direction of play that is clearly unreasonable under the circumstances”.

Is this clearly unreasonable? Well, there’s an example in an interpretation found in the Official Guide to the Rules of Golf that has basically read Mike’s mind.

It says: “In the general area, a right-handed player’s ball is in a bad lie. A nearby immovable obstruction would not interfere with the player’s normal right-handed stroke, but would interfere with a left-handed stroke.

“The player states that he or she is going to make the next stroke left-handed and believes that, since the obstruction would interfere with such a stroke, Rule 16.1b allows relief.

“However, since the only reason for the player to use a left-handed stroke is to escape a bad lie by taking relief, use of the left-handed stroke is clearly unreasonable and the player is not allowed to take relief under Rule 16.1b.”

Now in the situation Mike describes, our fictitious Phil has gone ahead and made a stroke. He’s played from a wrong place and is picking up a two-shot penalty for his pains.

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