Hey, Rules Guy: Can a competitor come back and caddie for another player?

August 20, 2017

I was in the final group on the last day of an amateur tournament. We were on the back nine when a player who’d completed his round returned to caddie for one of my competitors. That seemed unfair. Was it legal? —JOHN GOMEZ, PORT OF SPAIN, TRINIDAD W.I.

Is it unfair of Clark Kent to sneak into a phone booth and transform into Superman? (Lex Luthor might think so.) While the quick-change act you describe may be unusual—I prefer a post-round Scotch, followed by a nap—it’s also perfectly legal. Decision 6-4/8 holds that golfers playing in the same competition at different times can caddie for each other. They can also change, hire or fire a looper mid-round. There is one no-no: temporarily exchanging caddies to get advice. Per Decision 8-1/26, this action would incur loss of hole in match play, or two strokes in stroke play for each hole where the transgression occurred. So while Red Bone Ray may read greens better than Last Call Lou, and you might be tempted to stray, remember: No caddie-swapping allowed.

A guy playing in my foursome teed off on a short downhill par 4. His ball struck the roof of a cart crossing our fairway and ricocheted forward, stopping inches from the hole. He tapped in. Does his eagle stand? Should he have re-teed? Or was he supposed to play from where the ball contacted the cart? —JP SCHWALL, MOODUS, CONN.

Did he at least call “bank shot” first? Actually, it doesn’t matter. Under Rule 19-1, this situation falls under “rub of the green”—play the ball as it lies, whether that means a tap-in eagle or hacking it out of the trees. (Good breaks, bad breaks—the rules don’t play favorites.) Now, had the ball landed inside the cart, you would drop the ball as near as possible to the spot directly under where the ball was when it came to rest.

Playing with my son last fall, his approach shot rolled into the woods. He found his ball among the leaves and played it as it lay. But two balls flew out at impact—his and a lost ball. It was likely (but not certain) that he struck his ball before the hidden one. What’s the call? —BOB BRODERICK, KING FERRY, N.Y.

According to Decision 15/2, a player is not considered to have played a wrong ball in this circumstance, whether he strikes his own ball or the concealed one first. There’s no penalty, and he should play his ball as it lies (which is hopefully somewhere out in the great wide open).

My course is overrun by geese, who like to leave their droppings on the greens. When my putting line is, um, blocked, may I take a free drop and move to an unobstructed spot? If I instead must wipe the line clean, are there restrictions on how to do so? As I recall, you can’t use your hat—not that I would. I like my hats. —JON DRICKEL, STAATSBURG, N.Y.

Beyond the difference in size, shape and smell, bird droppings are treated no differently than leaves or pine needles. (I’ll let you make up your own “Pinehurst No. 2” joke.) Prior to 2004, you could only use your hand or club to brush aside loose impediments. After an amendment to Rule 16-1a, now you can remove them from your putting line however you see fit, as long as you don’t press anything down. A golf towel should work just fine.

A player makes an ace, only to realize that he’s teed off ahead of the tee markers. Must he still buy drinks? —JOE LYONS, LAKE WYLIE, S.C.

Yes—plus a penalty round.