Rules Guy: If you hole out your provisional ball, can you abandon your original?

Are you obligated to look for your original ball if you prefer your provisional?

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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.

A player has a 70-yard third shot on a par-5. He hits it over the green, and it is likely lost in high grass. He plays a provisional ball and holes it. Since the provisional is in for a 5, and getting up-and-down for a 5 on his original ball is very unlikely should he find it, he opts to abandon the original without even looking for it. Can he do this, or must he look for his original ball — and if the latter, how hard does he have to look? My guess is that you’re going to cite a Rule that says something to the effect that the player must make a “reasonable attempt” to find the original ball. If so, please provide the specific Rule — my friends will want to see it in writing. —Tim Wiegand, via email

So, you think I’m becoming a bit predictable, eh? You sound like Mrs. Rules Guy. Well, you’re in for a surprise, Timmy. There is in fact no requirement that a player look for his ball.

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That said, this situation brings an interesting — dare I say hilarious — scenario into play. Your opponent takes it upon himself to try to find your “lost” ball, given the strong likelihood that indeed you’ll make at best the same 5 or probably higher. Oh no! What must our Second-Team All-American hero do? Demand your opponent not look for the ball? No, you can’t do that, only beg and plead. Pray that the ball is really, really buried? No! Hurry up — Run! Run! — and take your provisional out of the cup, pronto! Only then does that ball officially become the ball in play and your play on the hole considered complete.

Until then, if your opponent finds the original within his three-minute search, you have to go identify and play it if it’s in fact your ball. (Your dubious friends can check out Interpretations 18.3c(2)/3 and 18.3c(2)/4.)   

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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