Rulebook: The Walk Of Shame

A lot of players understand the provisional ball but might not realize there are rules about playing one
A lot of players understand the provisional ball but might not realize their are rules about playing one
A lot of players understand the provisional ball but might not realize there are rules about playing one

Every golfer who plays competitively, has, at some point in their career, taken the “walk of shame”.  What is the walk of shame you ask? It typically occurs after you’ve hit an errant tee shot and upon searching fruitlessly for 5 minutes, you realize the Rules require you to return to the tee and put another ball into play, under penalty of stroke and distance.

And, if the agonizing walk back up the fairway isn’t humiliating enough, upon arrival at the tee you’re greeted with looks of hostility from the group following you, because you’re now holding them up. The unfortunate side to this situation is that it all could have been avoided, had you simply played a “provisional ball”, before leaving the tee the first time. 

Playing a provisional ball

While the rationale for playing a provisional ball is readily understood, players frequently get tripped up by the Rule’s three specific requirements… especially when their motor is running hot after mishitting their original tee shot!

First and foremost, a provisional ball may only be played if your original ball may be lost outside a water hazard or it may be out of bounds.  Secondly, you must announce that you’re playing a “provisional ball”.  Statements such as: “I’d better hit another one”, “That might be lost, I’m going to re-load” or “I will never find that one, I’ll play another” won’t suffice!  Finally, a provisional ball may only be played prior to going forward to search for the original ball. Should any of these criteria not be met, the original ball is deemed to be lost and the “provisional ball” becomes the ball in play, under penalty of stroke and distance.

When does the provisional ball become the ball in play?

Obviously, if your original ball is out of bounds the provisional ball becomes the ball in play.  Also, if you don’t find or identify your original ball within five minutes of searching for it, the provisional ball becomes the ball in play. And, lastly, if you play a stroke with the provisional ball from a place where the original ball is likely to be, or a point nearer the hole than that place. In all three circumstances the provisional ball becomes the ball in play under penalty of stroke and distance. 

Abandoning the provisional ball

Should you find and identify your original ball (in bounds) within five-minutes of searching for it, the provisional ball must be abandoned. Additionally, if your original ball is in or it’s known or virtually certain that your original ball is in a water hazard, you MUST abandon the provisional ball. In either situation, if you make any further strokes with the provisional ball, you’re playing a wrong ball and subject to additional penalties, including disqualification.

If you play a provisional ball in accordance with the Rules and the provisional ball is subsequently abandoned (e.g., the original ball is found within 5 minutes), any strokes and penalties solely incurred when playing the provisional ball are disregarded.

Now, what if…?

Suppose you’re playing a par 3 and you shank your tee-shot deep into the woods. You play a provisional ball and it comes to rest 6-inches from the hole. Can you declare your original ball lost? No. But you’re under no obligation to search for your original ball. However, if your opponent, fellow-competitor or even a spectator wishes to look for your ball, and it is found within the allotted five minutes, you must abandon the provisional ball and play your original ball. Furthermore, if you refuse to identify your original ball in the trees, you’d be subject to disqualification.

What happens if you hit your tee-shot towards out of bounds, correctly announce and play a provisional ball, only to strike it in the same direction, then play a third ball, without announcing it as a provisional? The third ball only bears a relationship to the previous ball, i.e., the provisional ball. Therefore, if your original ball is in bounds, you must proceed with it. However, if the original ball is lost, you must proceed with the third ball (laying 5), as the provisional ball was rendered lost when the third ball was played without any announcement. Ouch!

As the sole purpose of playing a provisional ball is to save time and speed up the game, the next time you hit an erroneous shot, do yourself and everyone else a favour, play a provisional ball. By doing so, you’ll also avoid the walk of shame!

For more information on Rule 27-2 (Provisional Ball) or any other Rule, or to purchase a copy of The Rules of Golf or The Decisions on the Rules of Golf visit www.golfcanada.ca.

/ Dean Ryan, Champions Tour Rules Official