Rules Column: Pat Campbell

Rules of the Game:

Don’t be caught off guard with a penalty

The last two columns have highlighted some of the unfortunate ways we keep our handicaps higher than we like. This one concludes the series on sneaky one stroke penalties that might pop up during your round of golf.

Dropping the ball from knee height still feels a bit awkward for those of us accustomed to dropping it from shoulder height, especially as we have to bend for the ball to be at knee height. So, why should anyone care if we drop from a little higher or lower? The answer, the Rules care, drop a ball from too high or too low? That’s a one-stroke penalty….if you play the ball. The good news is that you are both required and allowed to correct this with a re-drop before you play it, no penalty.

Drop the ball and it hits you or your equipment before it hits the ground? If you play it now, that’s a one stroke penalty. Again, don’t play it, take your free red

drop and no penalty.

Lift your ball because another player has asked you to as it interferes with their play. Don’t clean it at all, that’s still a one-stroke penalty.

It’s a wet day and your group has denied your very logical suggestion that you all play lift, clean and place. You and another of your group both hit down the middle and when you get to the two balls you can’t tell easily which is yours. You mark and lift it to see if it is yours. You can see that it is, but you really hate to see all that mud, so you casually wipe it off. Rats, busted! That’s a one-stroke penalty.

You are only allowed to clean it enough to identify it. (There is some good news in the muddy ball department. If you need to lift a ball to identify it, after doing so, you may place it back on the course aligned so that the mud is away from your desired point of impact.  A word of caution, you can’t set it up on the mud so that it is teed up unless that is how you found it.)

The last one-stroke penalties that we will look at are all related to unreasonable delay. If you continue to search for your ball after the three-minute search such that the group behind is now waiting, that’s a stroke. Best advice, don’t play with a ball you can’t afford to lose.

You get to the green and realize you must have forgotten to put your putter in your bag after practicing a few putts while you waited at the teeing area. It’s a par five and a long one. If your return to the tee causes more than a brief delay, you could face a one-stroke penalty.

A friend of mine putts with his driver, you might want to in this case. It’s a hot day and you skipped breakfast to get to the course on time. At the turn you stop and have the kitchen staff cook you some bacon and eggs and take the time to sit down and eat, after all, it’s kind of tough to eat and walk. That’s likely an unreasonable delay. Expect someone to express displeasure. One penalty stroke is coming your way.

Knowing and avoiding these one-stroke penalties will let you play with confidence which is always a bonus. Plus, the odd one might win you a bar bet! Want to see related videos?

Check out usga.org/rules for more information the rules of the game.