Rules Guy: When hitting from heavy rough, is it permissible to flatten the grass behind the ball with your club?
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With all the rain we’ve had this year, the rough has been extremely hard to escape. I’ve noticed people basically flattening the grass behind their ball during their pre-shot routine. I am sure this is a penalty but don’t know which one, or what the penalty is. Yet this is okay to do on the tee box, yes? If so, why?
—John Bowman, Westerville, Ohio
The teeing area is treated different under the rules because … well, it just is.
For starters, you’re allowed to tee the ball up there, and nowhere else, right? If you want to create some sort of irregularity of surface by, say, pressing down on the ground behind the tee, that’s kosher, too. So, let’s leave the tee box out of this because, once we’re past that, we’re playing the ball as it lies.
A player is allowed to lightly ground the club right in front of or behind the ball, which means just setting it down enough to support its weight. If that’s all a player’s doing, even if it creates an improvement to the lie there is no penalty — see Rule 8.1b. If, however, a player goes beyond that (say, from light tapping to mush-mush-mushing) and creates an improvement, under Rule 8.1(a) it’s the general penalty of two strokes in stroke play and loss of hole in match play.
Should your opponent or fellow competitor disagree with your penalty call (we’ll assume he or she hasn’t called the penalty on him or herself), the committee will need to step in and adjudicate.
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