In order to obtain relief without penalty from GUR
it must be known or virtually certain that the
ball came to rest in the abnormal ground condition.
In the absence of such knowledge or certainty,
a player must proceed under Rule 27 (Lost Ball).
When I was preparing last week’s blog on the main changes that have been made to the Rules over the past 20 years I was reminded that it was in the 2008 changes to the Rules that the term “reasonable evidence” was replaced by the much stronger requirement of “known or virtually certain”. This revised term is used in the following Rules in circumstances when a player cannot find their ball;
• Rule 18-1 Ball at Rest Moved by Outside Agency
• Rule 24-3 Ball in Obstruction not Found
• Rule 25-1c Ball in Abnormal Ground Condition not Found
• Rule 26 Water Hazards (Including Water Hazards)
• Rule 27-1 Stroke and Distance; Ball Out of Bounds; Ball Not Found Within Five Minutes
It is obvious that by changing “reasonable evidence” to “known or virtually certain” the Ruling Bodies wanted to emphasise that this is not a ‘get out of jail free card’ for a player that cannot find their ball. Whilst the Ruling Bodies do not go as far as putting a percentage on the degree of certainty that is required to avail of relief options, they have provided us with a lengthy explanation of how ‘known or virtually certain’ is to be applied to rulings in Decision 26-1/1;
When a ball has been struck towards a water hazard and cannot be found, a player may not assume that his ball is in the water hazard simply because there is a possibility that the ball may be in the water hazard. In order to proceed under Rule 26-1, it must be "known or virtually certain" that the ball is in the water hazard. In the absence of "knowledge or virtual certainty" that it lies in a water hazard, a ball that cannot be found must be considered lost somewhere other than in a water hazard and the player must proceed under Rule 27-1.In determining whether "virtual certainty" exists, some of the relevant factors in the area of the water hazard to be considered include topography, turf conditions, grass heights, visibility, weather conditions and the proximity of trees, bushes and abnormal ground conditions.
When a player's ball cannot be found, "knowledge" may be gained that his ball is in a water hazard in a number of ways. The player or his caddie or other members of his match or group may actually observe the ball disappear into the water hazard. Evidence provided by other reliable witnesses may also establish that the ball is in the water hazard. Such evidence could come from a referee, an observer, spectators or other outside agencies. It is important that all readily accessible information be considered because, for example, the mere fact that a ball has splashed in a water hazard would not always provide "knowledge" that the ball is in the water hazard, as there are instances when a ball may skip out of, and come to rest outside, the hazard.
In the absence of "knowledge" that the ball is in the water hazard, Rule 26-1 requires there to be "virtual certainty" that the player's ball is in the water hazard in order to proceed under this Rule. Unlike "knowledge," "virtual certainty" implies some small degree of doubt about the actual location of a ball that has not been found. However, "virtual certainty" also means that, although the ball has not been found, when all readily available information is considered, the conclusion that there is nowhere that the ball could be except in the water hazard would be justified.
The same principles would apply for a ball that may have been moved by an outside agency (Rule 18-1) or a ball that has not been found and may be in an obstruction (Rule 24-3) or an abnormal ground condition (Rule 25-1c). (Revised)
So, in circumstances where the ‘known or virtually certain’ test has to be applied players must ask the question, “could the ball be anywhere else on the golf course other than in the obstruction/abnormal ground condition/water hazard?” If the answer is “yes,” then the ball must be treated as lost under penalty of stroke and distance, Rule 27-1. Known or virtually certain is to be taken literally. It is not a best guess or maybe. The ball cannot be anywhere else, even if it is subsequently discovered in a different place!
Interestingly, the same limiting phrase forms part of the important exception to Rule 18-2b - Ball Moving after Address;
Exception: If it is known or virtually certain that the player did not cause his ball to move, Rule 18-2b does not apply.What is the correct ruling if a player grounds their putter immediately behind their ball on the putting green and while they are going through their mental pre-putt routine their ball moves although there is no noticeable wind, rain or other outside agency that could have influenced its movement? The Rules state that the player is deemed to have moved their ball because it is not known or virtually certain that they did not do so. It is possible, even probable, that the movement of the ball may have occurred as a result of them grounding their club, thereby moving blades of grass that might have had a domino effect in disturbing another blade of grass lying under the ball, causing it to move. Note that the wording of the exception above means that there has to be irrefutable evidence that something else caused the ball to move for the player to avoid incurring a penalty after they had addressed their ball.
I want to draw your attention to the introduction of the word “immediately” in the revised Definition of Addressing the Ball;
A player has “addressed the ball” when he has grounded his club immediately in front of or immediately behind the ball, whether or not he has taken his stance.This is causing considerable confusion amongst Rules Officials, as there has been no official clarification on how close to the ball the clubhead has to be for it to be addressed. Having engaged in various discussions on this subject, it is now my opinion that a ball is only addressed according to the Rules if the clubhead is grounded within about an inch (~2.5cm) or less behind (or in front of) it. Personally, I used to find it very difficult to hover my club above a ball on a windy day, to avoid the one stroke penalty under Rule 18-2b incurred if it moved after I had grounded it, but I have no problem grounding any club, including my putter, at an inch or more away from my ball, thus avoiding the possibility of a Rule 18-2b penalty. However, I expect that there are others that will disagree with my opinion on this issue of when a ball is addressed under the revised definition and there can be no certainty until there is official clarification from R&A and USGA.
(Edit February 15th 2012: I have received information from an authoritative source that Rules workshops are being advised that the R&A and USGA have agreed that a ball is addressed when the club is grounded within 1/4 inch or less from the ball.)
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