Hitting a Provisional
By kickntrue on 10/6/10
Matt is an opinionated* golf enthusiast from Pennsylvania. He coaches at the high school level, molding the minds and swings of our next generation. His column will appear each Monday on ClubSG. 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 SkyGolf.
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Great article! I've been playing for over 15 years and I learned a couple nuances of the rule I wasn't aware of. Thanks!
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