Rules Guy: Can you be penalized for playing out of turn?

What do the rules say about playing out of turn?

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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 recently watching the end of the 2021 Farmers Insurance Open. In the playoff, Luke List tapped in for birdie before Will Zalatoris attempted his much longer birdie putt—which he subsequently missed. What rule of golf permitted List to play first, when Zalatoris was obviously away?
—Noel Green, Ajax, Ontario, Canada

What let List leap ahead? Neither the Golden Rule nor a local rule, just good old Rule 6.4b.

There is no penalty for playing out of order in stroke play, and a playoff is just another stroke-play round. (This is provided two players don’t agree to play out of order in order to give a player an advantage, which clearly isn’t applicable here.)

Even in match play, there’s no penalty for playing out of turn, just the ability of the wronged party to cancel said stroke if desired.

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

Golf ball in red penalty area
Rules Corner: Can you ground your club in a penalty area?
By: GOLF Editors

I was at the bottom of a steep greenside bunker. Immediately after hitting my shot, I smoothed the sand with my foot — only to then look up to see the ball hadn’t cleared the trap and was rolling back to me. Of course, it stopped exactly in the spot I’d smoothed. Was this a penalty? 
— Tom Metzner, via email

Loyal readers of Rules Guy know that, in addition to favoring the third-person plural when referencing ourselves, we often underscore the notion that being aware of what’s going on around you, like knowing the Rules of Golf, generally works to one’s advantage … except, that is, when the opposite is true.

This is a case of the latter. Firstly, were the ball outside the bunker when you were smoothing, there is no issue at all, even when the ball is going to roll back into the bunker. Now, when the ball is indeed in the bunker, regardless of whether it ever left, things can change.

If you smoothed the sand deliberately to affect the ball in motion, that would be the general penalty of two strokes in stroke play or loss of hole in match play under Rule 11.3.

If, however, you were blissfully unaware and simply smoothing to care for the course, there is no penalty involved, skirting the prohibitions under Rule 12.2b.

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

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