Case presented by Dennis P. Quinn:
Okay, number 17 on my home course is a par 5, dogleg right with a lateral hazard guarding the right hand side. I hit (my) second shot into the hazard, which is high heather. I find my ball (I put a distinctive line on my balls) and chop at it. I advance the ball, but I don't get it out of the hazard. I find it again and put it on the green. As I go to mark my ball, I realize that while it is my ball, it is not the ball I am playing today. Obviously, I have been in that hazard before. My problem is that I don't know if I hit the wrong ball the first shot in the hazard or the second shot. How do I proceed?
The best part of the question is your timing. The 2008 edition of the rule book has a few changes being adopted in January; your question just happens to be one of the rules being amended. The rule that is being amended is rule 15-3, Wrong Ball. It is being changed to remove the exemption from penalty for playing a wrong ball in a hazard. They will now allow you to mark and identify your golf ball in a water hazard or bunker.
But since you asked your question in 2007, let me give you a timely answer. This situation is one of the few times that you want your ball to be at rest in a hazard. The rules dont penalize you for hitting a wrong ball out of a hazard (for now), so you havent been penalized yet. As soon as you realize that you have hit a wrong ball you must correct the mistake before teeing off the next tee. So you should have headed back into the hazard to try and find your original ball. If you are unable to find the original, then you can use one of the four options available when your ball is lost in a lateral water hazard and take the one-stroke penalty to get out. If you are lucky enough to find your original ball, play it without penalty.
Lets assume you cant find your ball. The question would be, which shot did you hit the wrong ball, the first or second? I would tell you to look where your first chop came to rest. Since you did not advance the ball that far with your first shot, you should have got a good look where it came to rest. If we couldnt find your original ball in that area, I would have no problem assuming that you hit the wrong ball two times in a row. Now determine where your ball last crossed the margin of the hazard and put another ball into play because you know, after all of this, you are slowing up the group behind you.
Bonus question from Patch
The other day I was hitting off the tee to (a) par three. I immediately knew I was going to be short, and probably find the front green side bunker. The ball did find the front green side bunker, but took a big bounce out of the bunker, and landed in a lateral water hazard some 20 yards away. I took my penalty, dropped a new ball, and got out of there with a bogey 4.
While walking off the green, I took a look in the bunker figuring that it was just another over watered, sunbaked piece of hardpan. What I saw was a kid's metal toy with a big dent in it's roof. There were no other ball marks in the bunker.
So what's the rule on a kid's toy truck, bouncing the ball out of one hazard, and into the water hazard?
The first thing that popped into my head when I read your e-mail was, Would Patch have sent this question in if his ball hit the toy and bounced up close to the hole for a birdie. Most of the time people only send in questions when it negatively affects their round. But with a name like Patch, you dont sound like one of those people.
The answer to your question can be found in the definition section of the rule book. The term to look up is rub of the green. A rub of the green occurs when a ball in motion is accidentally deflected or stopped by an outside agency. It then refers you to rule 19-1 where it will instruct you to play the ball as it lies. In this particular case, the kid's toy was the outside agency.
Sometimes a rub of the green can be good luck where it bounces closer to the hole, but we rarely remember those. The ones that bounce away from the hole seem to stay with us a little longer. Hope you have a better luck next time you hit it into the oversized sand box.
Email your on-course rules dispute to Rules Judge Ray