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How to avoid playing the wrong ball

By | May 21st 2010

By The Albatross

It is the responsibility of the player to ensure that the ball in play is identifiable as his and that he plays ‘the ball in play’ throughout the stipulated round; with the proviso that the player, under advice to his fellow competitor in stroke play or his opponent in match play, may change the ball in play after completion of play of any hole.

This is such a cardinal rule in golf that it is covered by both Rules 6-5 and 12-2. Rule 6-5 states that ‘the responsibility for playing the proper ball rests with the player. Each player should put an identification mark on his ball’. Rule 12-2, under ‘identifying ball’, uncharacteristically repeats, word-for-word the requirements laid down by Rule 6-5. There is, however, no penalty stipulated for violation of Rule 6-5 but violation or non-compliance with the stipulations of Rule 12-2 attracts a penalty of two strokes in stroke play and loss of hole in match play.

‘Putting a personal identification mark’ on a golf ball is not in itself an enforceable regulation and there are many instances of golf players, including Professional golfers on Tour, omitting to give their ‘balls in play’ a personal identification mark; choosing instead to use the manufacturer’s mark and number that are already printed on the ball. But the consequences reverberate loud and clear when a situation arises and the player has to identify his ball in play. It may be argued as an outside chance but such situations arise and they can be expensive.

There are many examples but let’s look at just a few. A PGA Tour player, called to the first tee at the start of a tournament, was actually asked by the starter whether he had put an identification mark on his ball but he retorted in anger that there was no express requirement under the rules.

So he proceeded to announce the manufacturer’s mark on the ball and teed up his ball. As misfortune would have it he blasted the ball into the spectators and lo and behold next to his ball was another: an identical one! It was impossible to determine ‘the player’s proper ball’ and he had to ruefully walk back to the tee to tee it up again!

He avoided the searching stare of the starter as he proceeded to lose a stroke that eventually proved crucial at the end of the tournament. The eventual winner beat him by a stroke. There is both embarrassment and a serious lesson in this story.

Most Tour Professionals do not only put a personal identification mark on the golf balls, but actually do a line half way round the ball which they also use for aligning the ball during putting on the green. But if it can go wrong it definitely will.

Not so long ago an amateur golfer playing his weekend competition hit a ball slightly off the fairway and into some rough. After searching for the ball for a few minutes he found one while his caddie found an identical ball a foot away. So, which is his ball? Such situations together with the heat they produce under the collar can be completely avoided by simple compliance with both Rules 6-5 and 12-2. Remember, Under Rule 15-3b, if a competitor makes a stroke or strokes at a wrong ball, he incurs a penalty of two strokes.

And the competitor must correct his mistake by playing the correct ball or by proceeding under the Rules. If he fails to correct his mistake before making a stroke from the next teeing ground or, in the case of the last hole of the round, fails to declare his intention to correct his mistake before leaving the putting green, he is disqualified. And not many of us enjoy being in that position. So be wise and comply with rules; sometimes they are completely on your side!

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