Rule on changing golf balls during play of a hole.

In the Mercedes tournament on the 17th hole on Saturday, Tiger Woods hit a great drive that unfortunately got on a downslope and rolled into tall grass in a valley crossing the fairway. It was unplayable so he had to take a drop and a penalty. He picked up the ball and threw it into the tall grass in disgust at the bad luck. Then he played a different ball the rest of the way.

I’ve thought that you can’t change balls during the play of a hole unless the ball is lost or becomes unplayable through damage. There are a couple of other ways to play a different ball but they don’t apply either.

This site basically agrees with what you said, the same ball must be played from tee to hole and you can only substitute when the original ball is lost or damaged. Did Tiger actually find his ball, and then toss it, or did he find another ball (not his) and chuck it in disgust?

I’m not sure. He picked up a ball, looked at it. The threw it away and did not continue to try to find his ball. It didn’t appear that he told his playing partner or any official that he was declaring his ball lost, nor did the TV commentators say that was the case. Of course it could be that he did, but the TV coverage was pretty continuous and nothing like that showed up there.

I think the most logical explanation is that the ball was damaged. Tiger Woods knows the rules of golf very well so it’s unlikely he would do anything that would cost him a stroke.

I have a feeling a touring pro is allowed to declare a ball damaged a lot faster than you or I.

Possibly so. However, if the ball is damaged you are required to show it to either your playing companion or an official in order to confirm the damage. His playing companion, Mike Wier (could be Weir), was close to 50 yards away and there was no official anywhere in the TV picture.

From k364’s cite: “you may lift your ball from any place, including a bunker or water hazard, to determine whether the ball has become unfit for play. You must first announce that you are going to lift the ball because it might be damaged, then you must mark the ball and give your opponent in match play or fellow-competitor in stroke play an opportunity to examine it. Failure to follow this procedure results in a one-stroke penalty.”

Minor nicks and dents aren’t damage sufficient to declare a ball unfit for play by anyone. Again from the cite:

“You can substitute a ball if the original is ‘unfit for play,’ which means it is visibly cut, cracked, or out of shape. Unless you’re still playing a ball with a balata cover, that can be pretty tough to do these days, especially since a mere scuff or scratch doesn’t make a ball unfit (nor can a ball be substituted if the player thinks it is damaged internally…”

Yes they all know the rules pretty well and on occasion all of them screw up. And Woods isn’t without a short fuze on occasion.

From the Rules of Golf, 15:2:

Right. As I read the rule, the player may substitute a ball, but if that is done without cause, i.e. lost ball or ball unfit for play (with a couple of other instances not involved here), and a shot is played before the mistaken substitution is corrected there is a 1 stroke penalty.

Don’t forget that in a situation like that, there’s all sorts of course officials buzzing around the player and his entourage. It would be very easy for one of them to be notified (and would the caddy be able to do it on the player’s behalf?)

Nope. Any time a drop or place is in effect a player may substitute without penalty (in this case, without additional penalty of course). Indeed, once the ball is out of bounds, as in this case, Tiger isn’t under any obligation even to search for the ball since he’ll be taking a drop anyway.

Probably the closes direct governing decision is 15:1/4, which states

. Woods’ substitution was legal under the Rules.

Well, the ball wasn’t out of bounds nor in a hazard as far as I know. I think it was just rough.

It the area turns out to have been a hazard, then Woods was OK. I’ll see if I can find out in today’s round if that was a hazard.

In this case, at The Plantation Course at Kapalua everything that isn’t mowed is considered a lateral water hazard.

But it doesn’t matter. As soon as Woods accepts a stroke penalty and a drop – for any reason – a ball substitution is allowed.

Your ball can be sitting pretty in the middle of the fairway and you may, at your option, declare it unplayable. You take a stroke penalty and drop, as Woods did. And if he’s doing that, then he can substitute his ball.

That would explain it.

I doubt it as there is no such thing as declaring a ball lost. You get to look for five minutes, after which it is lost, or you can put another ball in play, but you cannot “declare a ball lost”. If a player says after two minutes of looking “I declare the ball lost”, but someone then finds it within five minutes and before another ball is put in play, the original ball is good.

I question this because it would make a joke of the “hole out with the same ball you teed off.” For example, you can’t use a special “putting ball.” However by your claim you could be two feet off the green in the throat, declare the ball unplayable and substitute your special ball.

Coldor me dubious.

Excuse my rubbish - I obviously misread “damaged” for “lost”. They are so similar, you know…

Coulda happened to anybody.

Sure, at a cost of a one stroke penalty.

Be dubious all you want. Just read the rules. Especially Rule 28:

Oops! I was interpreting “unplayable” as “unfit for play.” My mistake.