SEE BELOW FOR ANSWER
Say you hit a lousy tee shot on a par 3 that soars into the trees. Thinking it might be gone for good, you hit a provisional that comes to rest five feet from the cup.
I bet I know what you're thinking. Do you have to look for your first ball, or can you just say, "It's lost," and play the provisional? And what happens if you declare it lost, but someone finds it before you play your next shot? The first thing to remember is that you don't need to search for your original ball. But it's not considered lost if anyone finds it before you play the next shot with your provisional ball, from a spot nearer the hole—and the five-minute search period hasn't expired (Decision 27-2b/1). In the par-3 scenario described earlier, if you want to abandon your poor tee shot, play the provisional before the first ball can be found within the five-minute window. At five feet, it's closer to the hole than the original. You'd be lying 3.
OTHER THINGS TO CONSIDER
→ As much as you'd like to abandon a bad shot, you can't refuse to identify your ball when someone finds it and presents it to you (Decision 27/13). If you try to refuse identifying it in a tournament, you could be disqualified.
→ If you're virtually certain your ball is in a water hazard, you must abandon it once you've hit another ball from its previous position. (There's no such thing as a provisional under these circumstances.) The ball you last hit is in play and comes with a one-stroke penalty (Decision 27-2a/2).
→ If you hole out with a provisional shot, your original ball is not considered lost until you pick the provisional ball out of the hole. If it's found before—in bounds and within five minutes after beginning to search—the provisional ball must be abandoned (Decision 27-2b/2). A word from the wise: Walk quickly or run.
Q: How many rounds do I have to play before I can get an official USGA Handicap Index?
A:If you join a licensed golf club (public or private), you can get an official Handicap Index after posting five scores. Your initial Index is based on the best differential from those five scores (adjusted gross score, Slope and Course Rating are taken into account) multiplied by 96 percent. Once you've posted 20 or more rounds, the average of the best 10 differentials of your last 20 scores (times 96 percent) is used for your Index.
By Dean Knuth, Golf Digest Contributing Editor. Knuth, the former senior director of the USGA handicap department, invented today's Course Rating and Slope system.