Rules Column: Pat Campbell

Stroke and distance just might be your new best rules friend

So many of us dread the words “You have to play under stroke and distance.” Because stroke and distance means add a stroke and play from the location of the previous stroke, it can increase the score for your hole rapidly. As a result, it feels like we are being unduly punished for a bit of bad luck, like our ball off the tee veering off to the out of bounds fence as if pulled by a mighty ball magnet. And…we all hate the comments from our fellow golfers, “Well, that’s OB, better re-tee, hitting three.” As if we needed reminding.

There are times you have no other option as stroke and distance is the only way to keep a ball in play for the round. The two most common are for a ball hit out of bounds or for a ball that is lost. If you couldn’t play under stroke and distance you would have to quit. So, already you should be feeling more kindly disposed toward stroke and distance.

Then, there are times when stroke and distance is one of a number of available options. The Rules that allow stroke and distance as an option are Penalty Area relief and Unplayable Ball relief. So, it’s a choice, and if it’s your best option it has to feel better.

Probably the best known application was Tiger Woods putting on Hole 13 at the 2005 Masters. His ball not only missed the hole, but kept on going into a Penalty Area (known at that time as a water hazard). Tiger knew he would have to take penalty area relief for one penalty stroke so which option would serve him best? He calmly replaced the ball on the putting green playing under his first option, stroke and distance, and putted again. He obviously felt he had gained some useful information that could be applied.

The really neat part, though, about stroke and distance, is that you can play a ball under stroke and distance any time you want, no explanation needed. (see Rule 18.1)

So, think about that three-tiered putting green you love to hate with a hole location on the top tier. You slide it by the hole and it continues down the other two tiers and comes to rest against the cut of the long grass 20 yards in front of the green. You know that it takes a perfect chip to get it back up and resting on that top tier, maybe more than one. For one stroke you can simply announce that you are playing under stroke and distance, replace your ball and putt again, already having gained a little read about what your putt will do.

I bet you never thought stroke and distance could be such an advantage, even a welcome choice, and maybe someday, your new BFF.