A time for patience

Rules Review: My ball is hanging on the lip of the hole. How long am I allowed to wait for it to fall in?

January 12, 2023

Dave J. Kahn

Having a ball teeter on the edge of a hole is kind of like that moment when spaghetti sauce drips off your fork. You know it probably landed on your white shirt, but until you look down, there's still hope for a happy outcome.

The Rules of Golf, specifically Rule 13.3, defines how long you can wait to see if your ball will drop before it is considered having come to rest. There is a touch of ambiguity to the rule, one that gives you a little latitude in how much time you take. Just not much.

Ask Zach Johnson about that. His ball was on the edge of the 12th hole at TPC River Highlands during the second round of the 2018 Travelers Championship. As he approached it to tap in, he paused for several seconds as the ball appeared to oscillate. It eventually fell in, but Johnson waited too long and was hit with a one-stroke penalty (the same result as if he had holed out).

So how much time is too much? Essentially, you have a little more than 10 seconds to wait before the ball is considered to have come to rest. But here's where that ambiguity kicks in. The rule states that you're allowed a "reasonable" amount of time to walk up to the ball before the clock starts. In Johnson's case, he took more than 16 seconds before his ball dropped, and PGA Tour rules officials determined that was just too long. But don't get caught up on that number, and here is why.

Say you hit a 50-foot putt that stopped just short. It wouldn't be against the rules if you, first, showed some type of emotion in reaction to the result. Nor would it be unreasonable to walk at your normal pace up to the ball, which could take several seconds. As long as you aren't purposely slowing down, the time that elapses could be as much as a half-minute. Again, don't get caught up on the number.

To recap: If your putt is resting on the edge and falls in before 10 seconds elapses, it's considered holed. If you reach the ball in a reasonable amount of time and 10 seconds elapses, it's considered at rest. If it then falls in, take a one-stroke penalty, grab your ball and move on. It's a simple rule, even if Lou from "Caddyshack" got it wrong!

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