Rules Guy: I broke a tree branch with my backswing. Is that a penalty?

Professional golfer, Doug Perry, Ft. Collins Colorado, chips out from underneath the branches of a very large pine tree on the 9th fairway during the U.S. Senior Open Sectional Qualifying at Rolling Hills Country Club in Golden Thursday morning.

What do the rules say about breaking a tree branch on your backswing?

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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.

If I dislodge leaves or break a branch during my backswing, do I incur a penalty? —Robert Santoli

If a tree falls and no one hears it, is it still a loose impediment? What is the sound of one hand gauging wind direction? We digress.

Rule 8.1b covers actions you’re allowed to take even if you improve one of the conditions affecting your stroke, and you’ll be pleased to learn that there is no penalty in the case of you breaking something that creates an improvement during a backswing for the stroke that you go on to make.

For more penalty-related guidance from our guru, read on …

Rules Guy: Is it a penalty to adjust the alignment of your ball after lifting your mark?
By: Rules Guy

Thirty years ago, I was playing in a tournament with another player who volunteered to tend the pin while I chipped the ball. As the ball approached the pin, he failed to pull it. At the last second the ball veered off target, but I always wondered what would have happened had it hit the pin. Would I have been penalized for his inaction? — Paul Boehm, Isle of Palms, S.C.

Paul, you have been thinking about this for 30 years? It’s been gnawing at you that long, and only now have you decided to find an answer? Either you have the patience of a saint, or you are a procrastinator of truly epic proportions ….

Under the current rules, it all depends on why he failed to pull the pin. If it was accidental then it’s no harm, no foul — play the ball as it lies (or if it went in, it’s holed).

If instead this player deliberately left the pin in, he gets the general penalty, even though he was attending it at your request. In this non-accidental instance, you wouldn’t play it as it lies; since you were chipping from off the green, you’d estimate where the ball would have otherwise come to rest and drop in a relief area if that’s off the green or place at that spot if on the green, under Rules 13.2b and 11.2c.

Unless it was match play, since your opponent would have lost the hole for his (in)action, and you could just pick up your ball and go to the next tee. We can only hope that explanation was worth the wait.

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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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