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Rule 26: Are You Really Really Sure?

Determining a lost ball

Rule 26: Are You Really Really Sure?

Illustration By Peter Arkle

September 2008

Let's say you hit your tee shot toward a water hazard, but you don't see a splash. When you reach the hazard, you can't find your ball. Can you proceed under Rule 26-1 (water hazards), or do you have to treat it as a lost ball (Rule 27-1) and return to the tee, hitting 3?

According to the latest version of the Rules of Golf (2008-2009), it must be "known or virtually certain" that the ball came to rest in the hazard for a player to proceed under Rule 26-1. In this case, if there is any doubt that the ball wound up in the water hazard, then you're back on the tee after a stroke-and-distance penalty.

For years the Rules of Golf included the phrase "reasonable evidence" in reference to situations where a golf ball could not be found but was believed to be in a water hazard, an abnormal ground condition, or an obstruction, or moved by an outside agency. The phrase was rather vague, but the intent by rules officials was to give players a little wiggle room to determine how a ball might have disappeared.

If you were fairly certain your tee shot was in a water hazard, you had reasonable evidence to proceed under Rule 26-1.

The only problem was that the rule book contained no formal definition of "reasonable evidence," so the term caused consternation for golfers as they tried to decide just how sure they had to be about where their ball was to proceed correctly.

The rules committee "had every intention of adding it to the definitions section of the Rules of Golf," says Genger Fahleson, the USGA's director of rules education. "However, as their discussions proceeded, they realized that the definition would simply include the term 'known' and the phrase 'virtually certain.' Instead of adding a definition, the phrase 'reasonable evidence' was replaced with 'known or virtually certain.' "

In other words, there must be almost no doubt about where the ball is.


Handicaps

Q: What does "bonus for excellence" mean?

A: To determine your Handicap Index, the USGA formula takes 96 percent of your 10 best differen-tials (adjusted scores taking Course Rating and Slope into consideration) from your last 20 rounds. Why 96 percent instead of 100? The USGA has added "bonus for excellence" into its system to give better players a slight advantage against higher-handicapped opponents.

Historically, the USGA wanted to reward the accomplishments of better players and recognize that high-handicappers' scores are harder to predict (wider range of scores and more room for improvement). The formula gives less-skilled golfers fewer strokes than they might need on average.

So if the handicap difference between two players is one stroke, the better player should win the match 53 percent of the time. For a six-stroke difference in handicap, the better player gains a one-shot advantage and should win 60 percent of the matches.

By Dean Knuth, Golf Digest Professional Advisor. Former senior director of the USGA handicap department, Knuth invented today's USGA Course Rating and Slope system.

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