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A player hits his drive in the fairway. When he addresses his ball for his second shot, his foot is in a deep divot left by a previous group. He sees a clump of turf a few yards ahead, retrieves it and places it in the divot, then plays his shot. By improving his stance, has he broken the rules? —John Alario, Staten Island, N.Y.
Cruelly, he has. Replacing divots is proper etiquette but doing so in this instance is breaking one of golf’s most fundamental rules, namely, playing the course as you find it.
Rule 8.1a prohibits improving any condition affecting the stroke — here, the area of intended stance — by certain actions, one of which being altering the ground surface by replacing a divot in a divot hole.
He gets our sympathy as well as the general penalty of two strokes in stroke play and loss of hole in match play.
For more divot-related guidance from our guru, read on …
A buddy of mine recently chunked an approach shot so badly that he laid the sod over his ball — literally. A toupee of turf, still connected to the ground, flopped over on top of his Titleist, rendering it pretty much unhittable. Given that this impediment wasn’t “loose,” was he still entitled to free relief?
—Josh Brown, Oakland, Calif.
The dreaded toupee, no better suited to the golf course than to the bald pate … As you suspect, an attached divot isn’t a loose impediment, so there’s no free relief on offer for this rather comical calamity. Your pal must either play the ball as it lies — near impossible, apparently — or, if the ball is in the general area, take unplayable ball relief under Rule 19 for one penalty stroke.
If the ball was in a penalty area, penalty area relief would likewise be available under Rule 17, also for one penalty stroke. The problem with attempting to move the divot in this scenario is that it’s essentially impossible to do so without improving the player’s conditions affecting the stroke — and doing that results in the general penalty of two strokes in stroke play or loss of hole in match play.
Like a toupee itself, that’s adding insult to injury.
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