Ask Golf Digest: What Happens When A Bird Improves Your Lie?

July 17, 2017

Illustration by Benoit Tardif

I hit my tee shot into the rough. Approaching it, I saw a large blackbird fly away from the area carrying a ball in his mouth, and then drop it. Do I play the ball where I saw the bird pick it up or where it fell to the ground?
–Michael Galano, Old Greenwich, Conn.

Imagine the poor bird's disappointment. It thought you'd left it a delicious treat of some kind—an orb made of white chocolate, perhaps—only to wind up with a mouthful of pesticide-flavored Surlyn. Neither you nor the bird are getting what you want out of this deal. According to Rule 18-1, when a ball has been moved by an outside agency, you have to replace it at the spot where it was picked up. For you, that means back in the rough. If you don't know exactly where the bird grabbed your ball, you can approximate it (Rule 20-3c). Either way, there is no penalty.

A lot of great players "drop" the club at the top of their swing and have a flatter plane coming back at the ball. Why not have a lower plane going up and maintain that same plane coming down?
– François Côté, Montreal

Ever see Iron Byron, the equipment-testing machine? It swung on the same plane back and through, and the ball flew dead straight. The trouble is, Iron Byron was a robot, and you're not. It's extremely difficult to maintain the same swing plane with any consistency.

The steep-to-shallow move is better for most golfers, says instruction guru David Leadbetter, because it's easier to repeat. It encourages the feeling that you have room to swing the club down from inside the target line, which is crucial to hitting good shots. It also adds a dash of rhythm and flow to a swing—making it much easier to synchronize the shifting, winding and unwinding that take place. There's nothing wrong with a little out-to-in loop. Or a big one if you're Jim Furyk.

I set up to my ball for putt-ing. Before striking the ball, I realized the ball marker wasn't mine. It was the same color. I replaced the ball marker, proceeded to my marker, putted and made par. What's my penalty?
–Tony Dover, Santa Rosa, Calif.

Your penalty is you must go out and buy a more distinctive ball marker. Perhaps you could get one that looks like a Ritz cracker ("Happy Gilmore" reference) or one that says "I like big putts and I cannot lie" (Sir Mix-a-Lot reference). So many choices! But getting back to your match: Well done! As long as you didn't hit the ball, you incurred no penalty stroke for accidentally placing your ball in the wrong spot before correcting your error (Rule 20-6).

I'm new to golf but am falling in love with the game fast. I have a 9.5-degree driver, a 16.5-degree 3-wood, a 21-degree fairway wood, 4-iron through approach wedge (52 degrees), sand wedge and putter. I'm wondering if I would benefit more from adding a 3-hybrid in place of a wedge.
–Jeffrey Rowe, Toms River, N.J.

It sounds like you're using just 13 clubs. We'd recommend the full 14 allowed by the Rules of Golf. We like your high-lofted 3- and 5-woods. Those should help get shots airborne. As for your wedges: Keep the pitching wedge and get three others—preferably at 50, 54 and 58 degrees. As a new golfer, the phrase "green in regulation" is not one you'll hear often, so you need more options around the greens, not more long clubs. This is a nice collection of lofts that will allow you to hit all the shots. Your scorecard will thank you.

May a player use a swing-training aid between shots during an actual round?
–Jerry Brazinski, Bensalem, Pa.

Not with impunity! Juli Inkster learned this lesson (Rule 14-3) in 2010 after she was disqualified for using a weighted "doughnut" on a club to stay loose during a long wait at the Safeway Classic. The USGA and R&A amended the rule in 2016, so the penalty is no longer a DQ for the first breach of Rule 14-3; it's two shots in stroke play or loss of hole in match play. The penalty for any subsequent breach of Rule 14-3 is disqualification.