Rules Column: Russ Wing

Stroke and distance just might be your best option in a hazard

In response to last month’s column, I got a message from a reader asking why a player would ever choose the stroke and distance option when his ball is unplayable. In order to answer this question, let’s use the same diagram that accompanied last month’s column.

In the diagram, the player has hit his tee shot into the “junk” and found it at Point B. Rule 28 (Ball Unplayable) offers the player three relief options – two club-lengths, flag-line (the dotted line), and stroke and distance (going back to the tee). Sometimes the “junk” is so bad that two club-lengths is not a practical option, and the “junk” extends for a long enough distance (perhaps up to a course boundary) that flag-line is not a practical option. If this is one of those times, then the player should choose the stroke and distance option.

But let’s suppose that our player is supremely confident of his ability to extract his ball from this “junk,”and so he opts to play it as it lies. He takes his mightiest swing and barely moves the ball. At this point, the player realizes that he has overestimated his ability to extract his ball from this “junk” and he’s ready to use the stroke and distance option to get back into play. But now the stroke and distance option doesn’t take him back to the tee. It only takes him back to the spot where he barely moved his ball. Oh @#%$&!!! Yes, that’s right. The player is now in deep doo-doo. So how does he get himself back into play? He takes successive two club-lengths relief drops (1-stroke penalty per drop) until he can get his ball to a point where it is either playable or where a flag-line drop (another 1-stroke penalty) will get him out of the “junk”.

What the player needed was a so-called regression option. Rule 26 (Water Hazards) offers a regression option whereby if a player tries to play a ball within a Water Hazard and can’t get it out, the player can “regress” to the original relief options that he had when he first entered the Water Hazard. Unfortunately, Rule 28 does NOT offer a regression option.

So this is why a player should seriously consider stroke and distance relief when his ball is initially unplayable and the other two relief options are not practical.