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Rules to Play By Settling Disputes

Editor's note: Each week, Ray Herzog, a rules expert from the San Diego Golf Academy in Orlando, Fla., will be answering reader-submitted questions involving the Rules of Golf. Look for Ray's Q&A every Thursday on
My partner's 2nd shot ended up to the left of the green. He hit his 3rd shot, which ended up logded 30 feet high in the dead fronds of a palm tree. We waited about 30 seconds - it didn't come down. He took a drop about 10 feet back from the tree, giving him a nice angle to the front of the green. While addressing his new ball, the original ball fell from the tree, landing near the trunk.
I argued that the penalty stroke and newly dropped ball should be played, because he addressed his dropped ball. I felt that he should be hitting 5 with the tree still in front of him. He argued that he never declared his ball lost, and can play the original as his 4th shot, because addressing the ball is not the same as taking a stroke.
Who is right? He addressed the dropped ball, but didn't swing, before the original fell from the tree. Hitting 5 with the original around a tree vs. hitting 4 to punch out from underneath would have made a big difference in our game.

You have got an awful lot going on: a lost ball, dropping in the wrong place, and playing a wrong ball. If you allowed your buddy to play from underneath the tree, you definitely got the short end of the stick.
When he hit his shot into the tree and could not see it, his ball was considered lost and he had five minutes to find or identify it. Since he did not wait and dropped another ball, his first ball was deemed lost. His dropped ball became the ball in play as soon as he dropped it. You do not have to address the ball or make a stroke at the ball for it to be the ball in play. When the original ball then fell out of the tree he was not allowed to play it because he had put another ball into play. The fact that he dropped in the wrong place is irrelevant right now. His only option for a lost ball is stroke and distance. He should have dropped his ball back to his previous spot to the left of the green, lying 4, hitting 5.
If he did not pick up the ball and re-drop it in the correct place he would receive additional penalty strokes. If he played his dropped ball from the wrong place, add two strokes for playing from the wrong place and let him putt it out. If he picked that one up and played his original ball from under the tree, he is now playing a wrong ball. That is a two-stroke penalty and he must correct the mistake before he tees off the next teeing ground. If he does not correct the mistake then it would be a disqualification penalty. Hopefully you did not have a big bet on you game; there is nothing we can do about it now.
-- Ray
If you are in the middle of the fairway (which means the ball is in play) and your practice stroke accidentally hits the ball, what is the ruling? You did not intend to hit the ball so is it deemed a stroke regardless? If it is deemed a stroke, do you play it where it ended up? If it's not a stroke, I assume you put the ball back where it was.
Along those lines: If you accidentally hit a ball off the tee with your club, it is not deemed a stroke because the ball is not in play yet right?
Teri Chapple, Cottage Grove, MN

This is an easy one. The answer to you question can be found in the very front of your rule book under the definition of stroke. For a player to make a stroke, there has to forward movement of a club with the intention of striking at and moving the ball. When you are taking a practice swing, there is no intent. So there was no stroke.
The proper thing to do is move the ball back to its original position with a one-stroke penalty for moving your ball in play. If you do not move the ball back and play it from its new position, you would receive a penalty for playing from a wrong place. The total penalty strokes for this error would be two strokes.
In your example on the tee box, your answer is correct but the ruling is not. When you moved the ball on the tee box, it is not a stroke because there was no intent to strike the ball. The good thing is that it is not a penalty because the ball was not in play yet.
-- Ray
Friday (at the Samsung), Paula Creamer's approach to the green ended up plugged in the rough near to a bunker. After consulting a rules official, she got to lift and drop her ball. Isn't this allowed only for a plugged lie in a 'closely mown area?'
Robert Morley, Niagara on the Lake, Ontario

I did not witness the ruling but maybe I can shed some light on your question. In professional tournaments they normally play the embedded ball rule in closely mown areas. Closely mown areas would include walkways, fairways, and fringes. If a players ball is embedded in one of these areas they can lift, clean, and drop the ball as close to the pitch mark as possible.
In some of the tournaments we play in Florida, we will play embedded ball through the green. Basically, this would be everyone on the course except water hazards and bunkers. The reason we do this is because of the soft sandy soil and the constant threat of rain. We seem to get a lot of embedded golf balls in the rough just off the fairway. It is more fair to the player to let them take embedded ball relief.
As far as the ruling, maybe there was a local rule allowing embedded ball through the green, or she got relief from something else we could not see. I know that doesnt completely answer your question, but I thought I would give it a shot. I needed to see the ruling to give you a better answer.
-- Ray
You answered a guy's question about clearing a water hazard on a par 3 in the last issue. My situation is different in that I am hitting to an island hole. The drive clears the water and lands on the island but bounces to a slope and rolls into the water on the side of the island. There is also a drop area. Where do I play the ball from? Where it crossed the hazard line on the island or from the drop area?
Thanks for your help.
Ray Ptak

You have the three options I listed last week plus an additional option of using the ball drop. Your ball crossed the margin of the hazard next to the green. Since it was an island green, the three water hazard options dont really assist you in any way. You can play out of the water, go straight back with the flagstick (deeper into the water), or go back to the tee. Basically the penalty when you miss an island green is stroke and distance. That is why the course will provide a ball drop area. Whether you use the ball drop area is your call. They are just providing it as an additional option. I myself would recommend using the ball drop. I remember watching the first round of THE PLAYERS Championship this year when over 40 golf balls were hit into the water at the 17th hole on the first day of the tournament. I know those players were glad they had the option of a ball drop.
Thank you for your questions,
Ray Herzog
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