Hitting a Provisional
By Snyper on 10/11/10
Matt is an opinionated* golf enthusiast from Pennsylvania. He coaches at the high school level, molding the minds and swings of our next generation. Feel free to chime in with your thoughts and opinions of Matt in the comments. Don't hold back- because Matt won't.

In a previous column, I discussed the proper procedure for when you lose your ball during the course of play. One of the things that I mentioned was the concept of hitting a provisional in order to save a trip back to the tee. In this post, I am going to expand a little more on the idea of the provisional shot in terms of some does and don'ts.

When playing with people who are weekend golfers, a provisional is rarely played correctly or even played at all. Most guys who are just out to have fun with their buddies will hit a shot and worry about finding it later. If they find it, that’s great, but if they don’t, they are usually just as content to drop another one and play on. I’ll be the first to say that I have no problem with that for those of you who just play to have a good time and those who couldn’t care less about their score. However, if you are more serious about the game and you want to make sure that you are playing it by the book, there are some things that you should be aware of when it comes to playing a provisional.
If you hit a shot that you think may be lost, you can declare that you are hitting a provisional and then play a shot from the same spot.

First of all, the idea of the provisional is to save time. If you hit a shot that you think may be lost, you can declare that you are hitting a provisional and then play a shot from the same spot. This way, if you are unable to locate the original ball, you can just play the provisional instead of returning from the last point of contact to play another shot. However, something that most people do not know is that you are not permitted to play a provisional if your ball is hit into a water hazard, which is defined as a hazard marked by red or yellow stakes. The punishment for hitting a provisional in such a circumstance is that you are forced to play the provisional. So, let’s say that I hit a ball off the tee over a swamp and I can’t tell if I cleared it. If it didn’t, I’m going to have to play from the tee again, so I hit a provisional to save a trip back to the tee box. When I get to the other side of the swamp, I find my first ball inside the line of the hazard, but very playable. Well, too bad! I would be forced to play my provisional as if my first ball was never found. In fact, you could make an argument that even if my first ball was found to be in play, I could still not play it because I hit another ball when my first one was believed to be in a water hazard. Granted, the ruling in that scenario is a little more subjective, but if you play another ball under the assumption that your ball is lost because of a hazard, you are declaring that ball in play. Thus, finding your first ball does you no good as you, now, must play the second ball regardless. So, if you think that your ball may be lost in a hazard, go look for it first. Once you have determined that it is lost, proceed from there with your next shot according to the proper relief. Understandably, few people are aware of this exception to the provisional rule, but I would suggest knowing it just in case you end up with a rules genius as an opponent!

You should also be aware of the fact that you are permitted to play a provisional ball up to the point at which you believe your first ball was lost. Sometimes, a guy will smoke his first ball 250 yards into high grass and then chunk his provisional only 150 yards. So, instead of going up to look for his ball and then coming back to play his provisional, he will hit his next shot with the provisional ball on his way to look for the first one. This is perfectly legal under the rules of golf as long as he again announces that he is playing a “provisional” before hitting his second ball. However, if you play a provisional ball beyond the point that your first ball was lost, you are deeming the first ball lost and your provisional is now in play.
If you play a provisional ball beyond the point that your first ball was lost, you are deeming the first ball lost and your provisional is now in play.

The last scenario surrounding a provisional that serious players should be aware of is the dilemma of finding the first ball after a provisional shot has been hit. This can, sometimes, be a very bad thing. For example, lets say you hit a terrible shot off the tee on a par three and you think the ball is lost. You proceed to hit a provisional shot three feet from the pin. As it stands, you could walk up and tap in the provisional shot for bogie and move on. However, if you go looking for the first ball and you happen to find it, the provisional can no longer be played. In other words, you don’t have a choice of playing your first ball or playing the provisional once the first ball is found. This is true even if the first ball is unplayable and the only relief option is to re-tee. You must go back and hit another ball from the tee after the original is found as the provisional becomes obsolete as soon as the first shot is located. So, if you follow up your initial poor shot with an exceptional one, you may want to just forget all about that first shot and move on with the provisional.

Remember, the idea of a provisional ball is to benefit you as a player and to speed up the game. However, if you are not familiar with the exact parameters of the rule, something that is designed to help you can burn you instead. Make sure you know that your ball isn’t in a hazard before you hit a provisional. And, whatever you do, don’t play your provisional after you find your first ball. If you do, you will be racking up all kinds of penalty strokes and your round may become the only thing lost.


* Matt's views and opinions are his own do not necessarily reflect those of oobgolf.

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[ comments ]
falcon50driver says:
I have no idea what you just said, and I've only had tee martoonies.
10/11/10
 
mjaber says:
In the last scenario... are we to assume that the intial tee shot was over the green? By the "provisional" explanation you have given, if the tee shot on the green next to the hole is past the initial tee shot, wouldn't that go back to your explanation part 2, where you state:

"However, if you play a provisional ball beyond the point that your first ball was lost, you are deeming the first ball lost and your provisional is now in play. "

I'm a bit confused by that part of the explanation. Please clarify.
10/11/10
 
bkuehn1952 says:
In the scenario where the first shot flies the green into probable trouble and the provisional is hit within 3 feet, one may tap in the provisional and by doing so, the original ball is then considered lost. The rule states that playing a provisional "from the place where the original ball is likely to be or from a point nearer the hole than that place" makes the original ball "lost". The rule does not actually say anything about "beyond the point where the original ball was lost" but instead uses the standard of closer to the hole.

In most situations closer to the hole will also be "beyond the point where the original ball was lost". The exception is in situations where the lost ball is over the green and why the rule uses "closer to" rather than "beyond the point".

I suppose this qualifies me as a rules snob even though I would never think to call someone on this point.
10/11/10
 
cjgiant says:
@bkuehn1952, I don't think this explanation in and of itself qualifies you as a rule snob, but maybe a rules nerd ;). No, actually it's a perfectly good explanation of something that seems totally reasonable.

The letter of the rule is somewhat at odds with its goal to "speed up play". As such, unless you are in a serious tournament, I'd suggest taking an "illegal" provisional if you think your ball might not have cleared a forced carry, regardless of what it is marked. If you find your ball, make your decision to play from your water hazard options, and if it's the best option, "pretend" you re-teed and play from your "provisional". Again, this is not correct by the rules, but we pace-of-play fanatics will thank you for it.
10/11/10
 
TravisMiller says:
And again if I understand everything correctly, your partner/opponent could spend up to five minutes locating your first ball and if it is found then you have to play it. Any rules snobs want to correct me if I am wrong? I am ok with it.
10/11/10
 
bkuehn1952 says:
@Travis - you are correct so quickly tap in the 3-footer to eliminate your opponent from finding the ball. Also, I am totally with @cjgiant about hitting provisionals if in doubt with a hazard.
10/11/10
 
Shane1 says:
@ Travis, in addition to your partner/opponent, anyone can search and locate your first ball....whether it's members of the gallery, the cart girl, the marshall, greenskeeper crew, etc... That's what happened to Phil Mickelson at Peeble Beach (if I remember)....he hit his initial tee shot in the junk and played a provisional to the middle of the fairway. He decided that he wanted to play the provisional and asked everyone not to look for his lost ball. Well, guess some guy didn't get the memo because he found Phil's wayward tee shot. At which point, Phil had to declare an unplayable lie, and went back to the tee box to hit another tee shot since he had to abandon his provisional......
10/11/10
 
birdieXris says:
I can also add something to this. If you're playing with/against a group, trust their eyes. Hitting a provisional isn't a bad thing and it shouldn't be thought of as such in your mind. If the guy you're playing with says "i think that went out" Just hit another one. At the very least, it's practice within the rules. Don't get all pissy and say "i know it's in. there's no way it's out, i'll definitely find it". That's no way to be and i know personally, if there's anything i hate more than the "golf pro" on the course, it's the people that get angry and think that the best way to get THEIR way is huffing and puffing over a ball that is lost/hazard/OB because someone saw it go out.
10/12/10
 
sepfeiff says:
It's your decision to make, and all about perception.. so unless your group or another is certain. you didn't see the ball land, or a blind teeshot? Your choices within the rules are:

1. I'm sure it lies in the hazard (100% certainty, or someone saw it splash.)
-Use rule 26-1 Hazard relief, provisional not allowed

2. Can't find it and 99% certain it lies in the hazard.
-Use rule 26-1 Hazard relief, provisional not allowed

3. I'm not sure if it lies in the hazard (blind teeshot?, don't know course?)
OR
4. I'm almost sure it doesn't lie in the hazard, but not 100%

For 3 & 4 You are entitled to play a provisional under rule 27-2.C (Lost Ball)
-Find original ball in play? Smile, abandon your provisional and play on.
-Find original ball lies in hazard AND playable? Curse, abandon provisional, use 26-1 Hazard relief
-Never find original ball? 2 choices:
1. Claim lost ball if not reasonably certain it lies the hazard, play provisional.
2. Assume ball is in hazard, use 26-1 Hazard relief rule
10/12/10
 
sepfeiff says:
@kickntrue - The article mentions that "I can’t tell if I cleared it." I know its a hard hair to split, maybe not worth the argument either. Players have to be "virtually certain" that the ball lies in the hazard. If not then apply Rule 27 (lost ball) which allows playing a provisional and abandoning if the ball is found...even within the hazard.

26-1. Relief for Ball in Water Hazard
It is a question of fact whether a ball that has not been found after having been struck toward a water hazard is in the hazard. In order to apply this Rule, it must be known or virtually certain that the ball is in the hazard. In the absence of such knowledge or certainty, the player must proceed under Rule 27.

27-2.C When Provisional Ball to Be Abandoned
If the original ball is neither lost nor out of bounds, the player must abandon the provisional ball and continue playing the original ball. If he makes any further strokes at the provisional ball, he is playing a wrong ball and the provisions of Rule 15-3 apply.
10/12/10
 
jcstoll says:
I got bit by this rule in a tourney at an unfamiliar course. I hit an errant approach - it was heading in the direction of a water hazard, but my view was blocked. I hit a "provisional" to the greenside rough. As I approached the hazard, I was becoming convinced that my original ball had gone in. I looked some more and found that it had actually cleared the water, and it was in the far right rough. I was informed that I had to play my "provisional". But could I have played my original since I hit the provisional when I didn't really know what was up ahead - there was a water hazard, and outside of it was tall grass, woods - ie places where the ball could have truly been "lost" and not in a hazard?
10/12/10
 
birdieXris says:
@jcstoll - i'd have gone under rule 3-3 and taken it up with the committee at the end of the tournament.
10/12/10
 
sepfeiff says:
Yes, you could have played your original ball. Not sure if that ruling in the tournament was made before the decision on the rule was published.
10/12/10
 
cjgiant says:
@jcstoll-I believe you would have been best of following @birdieXrus advice, in absence of rules official, play out both balls and find ruling afterwards. I have to think you should have been able to play your first ball if no one (including you) thought it was potentially in the hazard. I don't think it makes a difference if you find out what you thought *at time of provisional* was unmarked/OB/potentially lost was In fact a hazard.

Can anyone inform me if I am wrong?
10/12/10
 
sepfeiff says:
@cjgiant - Thats exactly right. If you clearly know its a hazard with no potential of ever being OOB, you may not play a provisional just to see if it went into the hazard or not. If there are other circumstances such as not knowing if it is out of bounds, etc. that makes the difference.
10/12/10
 
elliottgaryusa says:
> ...I find my first ball inside the line of the hazard, but very playable. Well, too bad! I would be forced to play my provisional as if my first ball was never found.

I have only been playing golf for two years but this has to fall under the category of "stupid rules in golf". I am not questioning your interpretation but the apparent inconsistency of the rules. Does it really say that you have to play your provisional if you think you hit it in water but not if you hit it in the weeds? Does anyone know why provisionals are treated differently just because the hazard happens to be water?

Golf.com posted an article "How to fix the five dumbest rules in golf" www.golf.com/golf/tours_news/article/0,28136,202 Maybe this one belongs in there to. If someone has some wisdom to enlighten my newbie mind then please do so.
10/12/10
 
Werepuppie says:
Greg Norman was DQ'ed from the Honda Classic several years back for this exact offense.You cannot hit a provisional if you think your ball is in a hazard,you must first determine that it is in fact in the hazard.
10/13/10
 
mabowen says:
So, if you can't see your ball as it lies after you shoot, whether it be over a mound or in the rough, you can assume it is "lost," and hit another provisional. By following the provisional rule, you can take practice shots all round by calling them "provisionals" and skip the warm up at the range before playing.
10/13/10
 
Mookie says:
Yah, that'll all speed things up.
10/13/10
 
jev says:
@mabowen: such behaviour might be considered "undue delay" and thus is subject to penalties.
10/14/10
 
zeg says:
@mabowen: Of course not, it needs to be a good faith (and plausible) belief the ball may be lost.
@cjgant: as long as your ball "may be lost outside a hazard" then you may play a provisional. That it may also be lost in a hazard doesn't take away that option.
@elliotgaryusa: As cjgant points out, if it may be lost oustide the hazard, you are entitled to the provisional. If the only place it can be lost is in the hazard, then you are virtually certain it's in the hazard, so you are entitled to a drop. Allowing a provisional in that circumstance would allow you to know the outcome of the stroke-and-distance option before you had to choose whether or not to drop. There is a local rule for courses with many hazards where dropping is impractical. If used, it allows a provisional for a ball in a hazard, but if this is done, the drop option cannot be used, you must either play the ball out of the hazard or use the provisional.
10/17/10
 
lcgolfer64 says:
I have an open question for the group regarding a ruling:
Yesterday I was playing a 479yd dog-leg left par 5. Hit a good drive the went through the dog-leg and carried to a right lie that had some oak trees lining the right side. Had about 220 left and tried to cut a low, soft 3w back through the fairway to the hole. I hit a limb about 60 yds down pretty solid. my friend didn't see the ball, nor did I. After looking, we decided that I drop right of the limb I hit (OB fence was to my right)should I have re-hit from my original spot or was I okay taking OB at the limb 60yds down? Thanks for your thoughts!
10/18/10
 
zeg says:
@lcgolfer: you should have played from the original spot, no question. Since you did not, you at least need to take a 2-stroke penalty for playing from a wrong place, plus the 1-stroke penalty for the lost ball. However, if this were a competition, a 60-yard error on the wrong place may well qualify as a "serious breach" and subject you to disqualification instead of the 2-stroke penalty.
10/18/10
 
lcgolfer64 says:
@Zeg
Thanks much! I appreciate the feedback. I entered the score in Oob. I will go back and adjust. Glad that I had not put it in GHIN yet. I will after I adjust the score in Oob.

Thanks Again!
10/18/10
 
pauls86 says:
I play with a friend who, after hitting a blind shot that we both know is not lost or out of bounds, declares that he will hit a provisional ball in order to practice. What's the rule?
10/14/14
 
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