Rule 15 - Substituted Ball; Wrong Ball
The Rules of Golf did not contemplate the possibility of playing a wrong ball until 1812, when the R&A of St. Andrews stated simply, "If the player strikes his adversary's ball with his club, the player loses the hole”. Since that time a few changes in Rule 15 have occurred, but none more important than the introduction of the concept of a substituted ball.(Edit 7th April 2015: A reader has kindly pointed out that the Note to Rule 24-1, and Note 2 to both Rules 24-2 and 25-2, state that if a ball to be dropped or placed under these Rules is not immediately recoverable, another ball may be substituted.)
So what is the difference between a substituted ball and a wrong ball? First we should look at Rule 15-1, which states, "A player must hole out with the ball played from the teeing ground unless the ball is lost, out of bounds or the player substitutes another ball, whether or not substitution is permitted”. Rule 15-2 goes on to discuss a substituted ball, telling us that any time we are allowed to play, drop, or place another ball in completing the play of a hole, we may substitute a ball. An obvious example would be when we find our ball in a water hazard. Even though we have retrieved the original ball, Rule 26 allows us to drop a ball when proceeding under that Rule. So we are allowed to substitute a ball in this case.
Now what happens when we substitute a ball when we are not allowed to do so within the Rules? Well, if we do not correct the error before playing a stroke, then we have violated Rule 15-2, and we incur a penalty under the applicable Rule. An example would be where our ball lies on a cart path and we take relief under Rule 24-2, but we drop a different ball than the one that was on the cart path. That ball is also a substituted ball, but since we were not allowed to substitute a ball, we are penalized under Rule 24-2. So any time we are playing, dropping or placing a ball, Rule 15-2 applies.
Now what about a wrong ball? Rule 15-3 covers this situation, but first, we should look at the definition of a ‘wrong ball’. A wrong ball is any ball other than the player’s ball in play, provisional ball, or a second ball played under Rule 3-3 (doubt as to procedure in stroke play) or Rule 20-7c (ball played from a wrong place-serious breach). A wrong ball includes another player’s ball, an abandoned ball, and the player’s original ball when it is no longer in play. A substituted ball is not a wrong ball.
When is a player’s ball no longer the ball in play? One example would be when it lies out of bounds. If we play such a ball, it is a wrong ball. Another example is when we have been searching for our ball for more than five minutes. If we find the ball after five minutes, that ball is no longer the ball in play. If we then play the found ball, we have played a wrong ball.
What happens if we play a wrong ball? In match play, we lose the hole. In stroke play, we incur a two-stroke penalty and we must abandon the wrong ball and proceed with the original ball. If we tee off at the next hole without correcting our mistake, we are disqualified.
So in our example of playing our ball after the five minute time limit allowed for search has expired, we must abandon that ball, add a two-stroke penalty, and then proceed with our provisional ball, or if no provisional ball was put into play, we must return to where we last played the original ball and put another ball into play, with the additional one-stroke penalty for a lost ball.
Obviously, numerous bad things can happen when we play a wrong ball, and there are numerous decisions dealing with this situation. But if you know the difference between a wrong ball and a substituted ball, then you can get through these tough situations with minimal damage to your score.
Copyright John Jelley, PGA, NHGA.
The photo at the head of this article is from this YouTube video of an incident in 2008 when Ian Poulter, having marked his ball on the putting green, carelessly threw it into the adjacent water hazard. He was saved from the penalty of two strokes, for substituting a ball during play of the hole, when his personal physio waded into the deep water and retrieved it, so that he could hole out with the same ball that he had marked on the putting green.
Now, it is almost time for me to put my feet up and enjoy another wonderful week of Professional Golf at its very best. What price a European winner of the Masters for the first time in the 21st century?
John Jelley's original article is at this link.