Ask the Rules Guy: Can I Borrow Golf Clubs on the Course?

February 1, 2016

Dear Rules Guy:
In a four-ball match, our opponents, one of whom was away, both putted at the same time. The balls collided near the hole. What should have happened next?
– Michael Sims, via e-mail

With golf returning to the Olympics, this gives me an idea: synchronized putting. Hey, they do it for diving and swimming. (Note to self: Dash off a note to the IOC.) If the putts were indeed struck simultaneously, the ruling is simple. Since the balls in motion were played from the putting green and then deflected by another ball in motion, Rule 19-5b requires both strokes to be canceled and the balls replaced and replayed without penalty. If the concurrently conked balls had missed one another, again, no penalty, but each player would have to play his ball as it lay. Now, where things get really complicated is if the four-ball partners’ putts were struck not at the exact same time but rather a second or two apart. To learn more about that scenario, crack open the Good Book and check out Rules 16-1f and 30-3f. Or better yet, here’s an idea: Everyone wait their turn!

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Rules Man:
During a recent stroke-play round, my drive landed in the rough. When I reached what I thought was my ball, seeing only the top, I took a swing—only to discover that I’d struck not my ball but a piece of a broken ball. My friends said I should be penalized for hitting the wrong ball, but a mere fragment can’t possibly be considered an actual ball, can it? Who’s right?
– Jin Fan, via e-mail

Jin, I wonder if you were in the group behind fictional baseball legend Roy Hobbs, who knows a little something about knocking the cover off the ball. Sorry your eyes deceived you, but Decision 15/3 says that if a player mistakenly swings at even part of an abandoned ball, he has still attempted to hit the wrong orb. Take a two-stroke penalty, then simply go and play the right ball. And if you can’t find your tee shot within the legal five-minute limit, you’ll incur a further penalty of stroke and distance. Oh, and you may want to consider laser surgery.

Oh, Mighty Ruler:
I always play with 12 clubs. The other day, my partner had a shiny new driver and offered to let me try it during a round, taking my total to 13. Did either of us break a rule?
— Claude Terwilliger, via e-mail 

“Neither a borrower nor a lender be.” Shakespeare was definitely onto something. Borrowing can get you in trouble. If your “partner” is indeed a partner in, say, four-ball match play, Rule 4-4b applies. It states that you two may share clubs, but the sum of your sticks can’t exceed 14. So unless he had only one club along with that shiny driver, you boys are in breach. It’ll cost you a one-hole deduction after the conclusion of the hole on which the violation is discovered. Now, if you’re just playing a friendly stroke-play round, Rule 4-4a lets you add clubs mid-round as long as your total doesn’t exceed 14—but the club or clubs can’t come from someone else on the course who has selected it for play. If this gent is a fellow-competitor in stroke play, you face a two-stroke wrist slap on the hole on which the breach occurred. I hope this helps. To quote the Bard, “There is no darkness but ignorance.”

Got a Rules question? Of course you do! Whatever it may be, send yours to rulesguy@golf.com and the question may be answered in an upcoming issue of Golf Magazine. Until then, play by the Rules!

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