Rules Guy: What do you do when you discover your original ball in the hole after playing another one?

Ball in hole

Does a holed shot count if you unknowingly play a wrong ball?

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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.

I was playing with a guy recently who appeared to stiff his approach shot, but we couldn’t find the ball anywhere. Just before the three minutes of search are up, lo and behold he “finds” his ball in heavy rough over the green … but soon enough we discover his original ball in the hole. He claimed this was an honest mistake, that he hadn’t thought to ID the second ball. Cheater or not, does his holed shot count, or is he penalized for playing a wrong ball?
—Don Brown, Staatsburg, NY

Cheaters never prosper, or so the saying goes. Therefore, let’s give this guy the benefit of the doubt, because under the rules he is definitely prospering.

golfer in hazard
Rules Guy: What happens if I hit the wrong ball out of a hazard?
By: Rules Guy

Once the ball has been holed, the player has completed play on the hole, and there is no penalty for playing a wrong ball or an incorrectly substituted ball — see Interpretation 6.5/1.

Now, if there were strong evidence of foul play, like you had actually seen this lucky devil surreptitiously drop a ball from his pocket, the committee could certainly disqualify him under Rule 1.2 for serious misconduct … but, since you didn’t, pat him on the back for his hole-out, safe in the knowledge that the golf gods do indeed see all, and dole out justice eventually.

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