Rules Guy: How do you proceed if your ball gets caught in the flagstick?

What do the rules say about a ball that lands *in* a flagstick?

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The Rules of Golf are tricky! Thankfully, we’ve got the guru. Our Rules Guy knows the book front to back. Got a question? He’s got all the answers.

Over a few post-round beers, my friends and I were devising weird hypotheticals. My example: A tee shot on a par 3 lodges between the flag and the stick. I believe that the player may extricate the ball and then receives a free drop from knee height — so he can drop the ball into the hole, which was immediately below the wedged ball, for a hole-in-one. Everyone else at the table disagreed…—Bob Atwell, via email

With apologies to Austin Powers, “weird hypotheticals” is my middle name.

You and your friends sound like my kind of people. In this what-if scenario (often arising around big tournaments at Merion Golf Club, with its wicker-baskets-as-flags), it’s your friends who are correct.

Yes, the ball has come to rest in or on a movable obstruction (the flagstick), but in this situation the Rules treat it as having come to rest on a movable obstruction on the putting green; the operating Rule is 15.2a(3), and the ball must be place on the lip of the hole.

No penalty, but no drop either — just a vaguely disappointing tap-in birdie 2.

For more strange-situation guidance from our guru, read on …

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By: Rules Guy

When my opponent attempted to play his shot from a tall fescue area, a clump of grass tangled around the clubhead … but there was no sign of the ball. After he’d taken at least two steps back toward the fairway, the ball fell out of the clump and into much lighter rough. We were perplexed. Play it as it lies? Take a drop — and, if so, from where? Penalty? — Carl Herbermann, Annapolis, Md.

Ah, the old hidden-ball trick. First off, and this should be obvious, the stroke itself counts.

Secondly, while it’s a question of fact whether or not the ball was in motion when it got stuck, in the end that doesn’t matter because relief is the same either way.

Whether you’re operating under Rule 11.1b exception 1 (ball coming to rest on any person, animal or moving outside influence) or Rule 15.2a(2) (ball in or on a movable obstruction), you drop the ball within one club length of the spot directly under where the ball first got stuck to the club, no nearer the hole.

There is no penalty, which would be adding insult to injury.

Need help unriddling the greens at your home course? Pick up a custom Green Book from 8 AM Golf affiliate Golf Logix.

Got a question about the Rules? Ask the Rules Guy! Send your queries, confusions and comments to We promise he won’t throw the book at you.

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