Tee Instability


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Dear Frank,
If your ball falls off the tee during your swing and is not struck by your club, what is the penalty (assuming your club didnt cause the ball to fall)? I thought the ball could be replaced without penalty, due to the rule which states the ball must be played from where it last rested (on the tee).
Please clarify this point.

I dont normally answer rules questions but in this case, it is close enough to equipment (tee and ball) that I will give you the answer ' having first consulted with the Rules Police to make sure I am on target. It also gives me an opportunity to vent a little about tees.
First, make sure you have a tee with enough supporting surface to allow the ball to balance with some degree of stability until it is struck. There are many fancy tees which make all sorts of claims about adding more distance to your tee shots. The only distinguishing difference between these tees and conventional tees is that they require the steady hand of a neurosurgeon to balance the ball atop them.
Once you place the ball on the tee and you make a swing with the intent of hitting the ball, then that stroke counts even if the ball falls off the tee before the clubhead arrives into the impact zone. You need to then play the ball as it lies and there is no further penalty (see Rule 11-3). If you are preparing to hit the ball and you knock it off the tee by accident, or the ball simply falls off the tee, you may re-tee and start the process all over again without penalty.
If, however, at the start of your downswing, you see that the ball is falling off the tee and you attempt to abort the swing by changing the path of the head ' this is something Tiger can do but for the rest of us mere mortals is almost impossible ' there is no penalty. The Committee ' you and your four-ball companions, if there is no other formal committee ' make the decision as to whether or not you intended to abort the swing. In this case, you have one vote and you may have to plead your case to the others; offering a beer after the round may help.
Dinger, you are the true judge, so don't try to plead your case if you whiffed at the ball. Also, try to use a conventional tee about 2 inches in length ' a very good tee length and sufficient for 95 percent of us. This way, you won't break the tee every time you use it, as is the case with today's long (2 to 3 inches) tees, the broken and dead bodies of which are strewn on every tee box.
' Frank

Playing By What Rules?

I read your column every week. However, when 5-handicapper Brian recently wrote in about using a non-conforming club, the impression I got from your answer is that you were okay with him playing by his own rules ' just because of the groove rule change.
The problem I have with this is two-fold: 1) If he is using a non-conforming club his handicap is wrong, as scores must be posted according to play by the Rules of Golf; and 2) many of us who play golf like to wager. It would be unfair of Brian to play for money ' no matter how little it is ' when the others in his group are playing by the rules and he is not. It would be no different than improving your lie when no one is looking, or lying about the score you posted on a hole.

I dont think I suggested that Brian play by his rules and you by those adopted by the USGA. I do suggest that everybody play by Brians Rules OR those originally developed 300 years ago and refined every four years since. One set for every competitor is the only way to compete fairly.
My concern is when a rules change doesn't make sense and the USGA refuses to communicate with its constituents who have requested information as to why the rule is being changed. If it was a matter of dropping a ball over your shoulder ' as the rule required some time ago ' or at arms length in front of, or to the side of you, it would make little sense to deviate from this rules change. But if the rule requires that 35 million golfers have to change their clubs to conform without adequate explanation or debate as to why, then there is reason to challenge the rule and the process.
The lack of transparency in the rules making process indicates there is no sound reason for the change or any evidence that this will solve a perceived problem. There are alternative solutions which will allow us to determine if the problem actually exists and that a groove specification change is the best solution without disrupting the entire golfing community.
' Frank
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Frank Thomas, inventor of the graphite shaft, is founder of Frankly Golf, a company dedicated to helping golfers. Frank is chief technical advisor to GolfChannel.com. He served as technical director of the USGA for 26 years and directed the development of the GHIN system and introduced the Stimpmeter to the world of golf. To email a question for possible use in an upcoming Let's Be Frank column, please email letsbefrank@franklygolf.com
Frank Thomas