Rules Guy: Do you have to take a penalty if you hit a provisional with a different-brand ball?

Does the one-ball rule apply to provisionals?

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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.

In a stroke-play tournament with a local one-ball rule in effect, a player accidentally grabbed a different make ball for a provisional. He then found his original ball but realized his mistake when picking up his provisional. Since the provisional wound up not being used, did he avoid a penalty? —Jay Grobes, Crystal Ridge, Pa.

Sartre and Camus, the Ballesteros and Olazabal of existentialism, would have enjoyed this question, which boils down to “When does a provisional become real?”

The answer is that there’s no penalty for making the stroke with the incorrect ball since it did not become the ball in play, as supported by Interpretation 4.2a(1)/2. If, as Sartre said, “Hell is other people,” then perhaps heaven is avoiding penalties.

For more provisional-ball guidance from our guru, read on

Golfers looking for balls
Rules Guy: If you hole out your provisional ball, can you abandon your original?
By: Rules Guy

On a par 4, my buddy hit a drive into the trees. He topped his provisional down the fairway but managed to knock his next shot onto the front of the green. While looking for my own wayward drive, I found his original ball. Sure enough, his second shot with this ball hits his provisional on the fly and ricochets to within a foot of the hole for a tap-in birdie… I think. Does his provisional ball count as an outside agency and get treated as a rub of the green, or would it be considered part of his equipment and so subject to a penalty? —Sean Harvey, via email

As the noted Scottish golf rules expert Rod Stewart once put it, “Some guys have all the luck/Some guys have all the pain/Some guys get all the breaks/Some guys do nothing but complain…” Which guy is your pal? The lucky one (which, if this was match play, makes you the pained one).

Since the provisional was no longer in play, Rule 19-5 doesn’t apply.

In equity and by analogy to Rule 19-5a (check out Decision 19-5/5 if you’ve got a minute to kill) there’s no penalty and the ball is played as it lies. So it’s a strange bird, but a bird all the same.

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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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