What happens when a player declares a wrong ball unplayable?

Published 14/01/2011 07:20:00

Jeff finds a ball, which he mistakenly thinks is his, in a bad lie. He declares the ball unplayable, drops it within two club-lengths of the spot where it lay, and plays it. He then finds his original ball.

What is the ruling?

The two club-length relief option for an unplayable ball (Rule 28) is available only if the original ball is found and identified, because it can be applied only with reference to the ball in play, so Jeff didn't proceed properly (the same is true for the option of dropping behind the original ball on a line with the hole).

The next question, in stroke play, is whether the ball he dropped and played is considered a substituted ball or a wrong ball (in match play, Jeff loses the hole in either case). If it were a substituted ball, he would continue play with that ball, adding a two-stroke penalty for substituting a ball when not permitted by the Rules. But since Jeff believed he was proceeding with his original ball, the dropped ball is considered a wrong ball. Jeff is penalized two strokes and must continue play with his original ball; strokes played with the wrong ball don't count. If he tees off on the next hole without correcting his error, he is disqualified.

Now What If?

Jeff finds a ball, which he mistakenly thinks is his, in a bad lie. He declares the ball unplayable and decides to use the option of going back to the spot of his previous stroke and taking a stroke-and-distance penalty. He plays the ball, then, on his way to his next stroke, finds his original ball in a playable position.

What is the ruling?

The original ball is lost and the ball played under penalty of stroke and distance is in play. When using the stroke-and-distance option under the unplayable ball Rule, the original ball doesn't need to be found.


1.  The ruling above is incorrect. This precise situation is covered in an official ruling, Decision 28/15.

comment by Stewart - 31/05/2016 04:01

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