February 15, 2018

Rules of Golf - In a Tree at Pebble Beach

Troy Merritt's ball disappeared in the large cypress tree on the final hole at Pebble Beach

The AT& T Pebble Beach Pro-Am provided us with some exciting golf over the past weekend. Nearly ten players were in contention on the back-nine on Sunday including Troy Merritt. Troy was -14 with nine holes to play, but a costly bogey on the par-5, 14th hole took him out of contention for the win. Following the 14th hole, Merritt made three consecutive pars leading up to the famous final hole at Pebble Beach. Knowing his chances of victory were nearly null, a birdie could launch him into second place, which would come with a nice paycheck and valuable FedEx Cup points. Unfortunately, that is not how things played out on the 18th hole.

Merritt’s drive found the fairway and his layup ended up on the right side of the fairway just 118 yards from the hole. It was at this point that things took a turn for the worst. His wedge shot flared out to the right and headed towards the large cypress tree short-right of the green. The ball rattled around in the tree and no one ever saw the ball fall out and land on the ground. Merritt and others searched for the ball around the tree for several minutes. Some people were certain the ball never came out of the tree, but the tree is so high it was impossible to see and identify the ball. A Rules Official was on the scene and took Merritt back to where his previous stroke was made so he could play under stroke and distance. Merritt finished the hole with a triple-bogey 8 which dropped him into a tie for eighth place. Let’s take a closer look at the Rule coming into play for Troy on his final hole…

Rule 27 states what we must do when a ball is lost or out of bounds and how to play a provisional ball. First, we have five minutes to search for the ball in question. Time begins when the player, partner or caddie begins searching. Once the five minutes has expired, the ball is deemed to be lost. A player has only one option for a lost ball, and that is to take stroke and distance - return to where you last played and play from there with a one-stroke penalty (drop the ball, or re-tee if from teeing ground to get the ball in play).

Some people may argue that since they are certain the ball never came out of the tree that they should be able to take an unplayable ball and drop underneath the tree; however, Decision 27/15 states if a player cannot identify the ball as his, then the ball is lost. A ball can be identified in various ways. We have seen players stand on top of golf carts, climb trees, and even use binoculars or a range finder to identify a ball stuck in a tree. If you are able to identify your ball stuck in a tree then you have the option to take an unplayable ball (Rule 28).
If a player takes an unplayable ball for their ball stuck in a tree they have three options:

1) Stroke and distance
2) Drop a ball behind the location of the ball in the tree and on a straight line backwards keeping the point in the tree between you and the flagstick
3) Drop a ball within two club-lengths from the point on the ground directly below where the ball lay in the tree (Decision 28/11)

Tip – If you believe your ball may be up in a tree and you want to search for it, declare the ball unplayable before your start searching. Now, if the ball moves while you are searching you are not penalized for moving your ball in play.

Finally, to avoid these situations, just stop hitting your ball in the trees! This may be hard to believe, but finding the fairway or green in regulation is always the smartest route to take.

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