Playing out of turn and provisional balls

Contributing Columnist

A reader asked the following question about playing out of turn: player A hits his tee shot well into the woods and then proceeds to announce he will hit a provisional ball. Player A immediately hits his provisional ball before his opponent, B5 in match play hits his tee shot. Has

Player A proceeded correctly?

The answer is no. A player hitting a provisional ball from the tee should do so after his opponent in match play, or fellow-competitor in stroke play, have played their first strokes. This appears in Rule 10-3. If Player A does not wait for the others to hit before playing his provisional ball, he is guilty of playing out of turn. In stroke play, Player A’s mistake is unimportant because there is no penalty for playing out of turn unless it is done to give one player an advantage, Rule 10-2c. In match play, however, there are potential ramifications. The opponent may require a player who has played out of turn to cancel the stroke and play a ball in the proper order, without penalty, Rule 10-lc. However, that decision must be made immediately. The player cannot wait until after be hits his own tee shot to make the call on requiring player A to replay his shot.

This brings to mind a frequently asked question relative to provisional balls. Supposing you hit your tee shot into deep woods. You hit a provisional ball in the correct order right down the middle of the fairway. After looking in the woods for a short time, you decide how crazy it is to look for the ball, and announce to your opponents that you are going to play the provisional ball. However, before you can play your next shot, one of your opponents decides that he’ll do you a favor and continues the search for your ball. Within the 5 minute allotted time frame, your opponent finds a ball he is pretty sure is yours nestled under a thick bush.

Was your declaration that the ball is lost binding? Are you actually obligated to search for your ball? What happens if the original ball is found but you’d rather play the provisional?

According to Rule 27, a ball is considered lost if the player who hit it neither finds it nor identifies it as his own within 5 minutes after the player’s side has begun to search for it (side referring to his partner and/or their caddies); or if the player has played any strode with a provisional ball from the place where the original ball is likely to be, or from point nearer the hole than that place.

Declaring a bail lost is meaningless, but there is nothing in the rules that requires a player to search for a potentially lost ball. In fact, if after hitting a poor drive,you simply play another ball, without announcing your intention to play a provisional ball, the first ball is considered lost.

Now, what about the do-gooder who found your ball in the woods? Can you ignore him if you don’t want to find the original and want to accept the penalty and play your provisional? Unfortunately, no.Decision 27-2c/2 states that a player is obligated to inspect the ball that has been found and, if it is your ball, you must abandon your provisional ball and continue play with the original.

A follow-up question to the above: can your opponent insist upon searching for your first ball, since it might be to his benefit to find it? Can you ignore him by abandoning your first ball and move directly to your provisional ball?

If my opponent does find my first ball before I play my provisional ball in the fairway, I am obliged to play my first ball. However, if I get to my provisional ball and hit it before the first ball is found, the provisional becomes the ball in play (Decision 27-2b/l).

It is not too difficult to imaging a comical foot race between two determined opponents, one sprinting towards the green, putter in hand, and the other rambling into the woods in a frenzied search for the errant shot.


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