If there is one thing that can help to speed up play it is the correct use of the provisional ball. It is frustrating to have to take that long walk back to where you last played from when you cannot find your ball and have to suffer the stroke and distance penalty. However, there is one important situation where you are not permitted to play a provisional ball if you think that your ball could be lost. Rule 27-2 states;
“If a ball may be lost outside a water hazard or may be out of bounds, to save time the player may play another ball provisionally in accordance with Rule 27-1.”In other words, if it is known or it is virtually certain that the ball is within the margins of a water hazard (or lateral water hazard) then the player may not play a provisional ball. The reason for this is that the relief options for a ball lost in a water hazard (Rule 26-1a) are significantly more advantageous than those for a ball that is lost or out of bounds Rule 27-1).
There are two Decisions that clearly illustrate this;
27-2a/2 Provisional Ball Played Solely in Belief Original Ball Might Be in Water HazardThe point made in the answer to this second Decision is important. Whether a ball may be lost inside or outside of a hazard may depend a lot on the surrounding terrain. If a wide fairway leads straight down to a water hazard then the ball will either be found on the fairway or will be in the water hazard. But if there is long grass and/or trees around the water hazard then the ball could be lost anywhere inside or outside of the hazard because it could be hidden in the deep rough or could have been deflected off trees in any direction.
Q. A player's tee shot might be in a water hazard, but clearly it is not lost outside a water hazard or out of bounds. The player announces that, since his ball might be in the hazard, he is going to play a provisional ball and he does so. Rule 27-2a seems to prohibit a provisional ball in the circumstances. What is the ruling?
A. The player did not play a provisional ball which, according to the Definition of "Provisional Ball," is a ball played under Rule 27-2 for a ball which may be lost outside a water hazard or may be out of bounds. The second ball from the tee was in play since it was not a provisional ball.
27-2a/2.2 Possibility That Original Ball Is in Water Hazard May Not Preclude Play of Provisional Ball
Q. If a player's original ball may have come to rest in a water hazard, is he precluded from playing a provisional ball?
A. No. Even though the original ball may be in a water hazard, the player is entitled to play a provisional ball if the original ball might also be lost outside the water hazard or out of bounds. In such a case, if the original ball is found in the water hazard, the provisional ball must be abandoned — Rule 27-2c (Formerly 27-2c/1)
There was a high profile incident concerning this Rule back in 2004 when Greg Norman told his fellow competitors, Fred Couples and Charles Howell lll, that he was going to play a provisional tee shot for his original ball that he thought went into a water hazard. As explained above the Rules only permit a provisional to be played if the original ball is believed to be lost or out of bounds, not when it is in a water hazard. Ironically, Norman found his original ball in a bunker. He then picked-up the ball that he thought was a provisional from the middle of the fairway and played from the bunker. The Rules Official accompanying the group, Slugger White, told Norman that he would have to return and drop a ball where his second tee shot had come to rest. Including the penalties for playing a wrong ball from the bunker and lifting a ball that was in play, he would have been playing his seventh shot to the green. "He chose not to do that," White said. "He said, 'I'm disqualified,' and left.” Surprisingly, Fred Couples said that he also was not aware of this Rule. Another case of tour professionals not knowing the Rules as well as they should, which always surprises me when I think about how much money can be riding on one or two extra strokes over a four-day competition.
Remember that the only two circumstances when you can hit a provisional ball are also the only two times when you are required to proceed under stroke and distance if you cannot find your original ball. Makes sense doesn’t it?
P.S. Since writing this blog I have recorded a short video on 'Playing a Provisional Ball'. Scroll down at this link.
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