You just hit a tee shot to a blind landing zone. You smashed it, right on the screws. As the ball disappeared behind the hill, it was right on your target line. Great shot, you. You make your way over the hill but your ball is nowhere to be found. You march up and down the fairway, zig-zagging between the left and right rough. After five minutes, the infuriating reality is no longer deniable. It’s lost.
It could have been a bad kick, picked up by a group on an adjacent hole, plugged, or maybe you were lying to yourself about how great your shot was in the first place.
If you’re a rule-follower, you march back to the tee-box, add one, and re-load. Hopefully your partner will watch from the fairway, where you’ll be hitting your fourth shot assuming you find it this time. Don’t worry about the group shooting daggers at you from the tee box as you start the hole over. The “While We’re Young” campaign encouraging golfers to pick up the pace? Don’t worry about that, either.
In theory, the stroke-and-distance penalty for a lost or out-of-bounds ball is sensible. In practice, however, it’s ludicrous. During a casual round, most players aren’t willing to make the aforementioned march back to the tee. If you fall into that category, Andrew Elaimy, assistant pro at TPC Boston, offers his suggestion for an appropriate alternative to the stroke and distance dilemma.
“During everyday play, or when playing with members, I suggest playing it as a hazard with your best guess on where you think it entered,” he says. “At the clubs I’ve worked at it, if someone walked back to the tee and set the whole day back, it would be a big issue and they would definitely hear about it from someone in the professional staff.”
The proposed new rules of golf don’t provide a solution for golf’s “walk of shame.” The USGA did, however, acknowledge its shortcoming in this area, echoing Elaimy’s suggestion by offering an “Appropriate Penalty Under Any Alternate Procedure.” This, you know, ensures everybody can break the rules equally. After all, it’s a gentlemen’s game.
The entire explanation for not introducing a solution is worth a read, but the nuts and bolts of the suggested alternative are: use your best judgement on where to drop, then take your fourth shot from there. The section of the USGA’s explanation regarding an agreeable alternative states:
It was recognized that, when groups of golfers agree among themselves to use an alternative to stroke and distance, the player usually drops a ball somewhere around where the player or the group thinks the ball was lost or went out of bounds and takes a penalty of one stroke.
In reviewing the various alternatives to stroke and distance, we discussed whether there should be a penalty of one stroke or two strokes (noting that, at one point in history, the Rules applied a three-stroke penalty in stroke play, and at other times the penalty was distance-only with no added penalty stroke). While no definitive conclusions were reached, it was generally felt that any option that removed the need to return to where the previous stroke was made should carry a penalty of two strokes. This was based on the view that any alternative should seek to replicate the likely outcome of the stroke-and-distance procedure; in effect, the second penalty stroke would substitute for not requiring the player to return to make another stroke from where the previous stroke was made.
By way of example, a player who loses his or her tee shot and plays another ball from the tee into the fairway will be playing the fourth stroke from the fairway. In view of this, any alternative relief option that allows the player to proceed without returning to the tee should have the player playing the fourth stroke, which means a two-stroke penalty needs to be imposed.
Commendably, the USGA uses sound logic in both assuming that most players won’t follow this ridiculous rule, and in how to best break the rule without cheating its spirit. Nicely done.
This explanation should suffice as permission to replace the trek back to the tee box with a reasonable drop and two-stroke penalty the next time you hit that perfect tee shot that somehow vanishes off the golf course. Whether you like the rule as it is, agree with this solution, or have an alternative of your own, the USGA would like to hear your feedback and creative thoughts.