Do you often find yourself hitting a provisional golf ball? You’ll need to understand what to do next.
If you watched the final hole of the 2023 Masters you must have seen Jon Rahm’s extraordinary tee shot that was hit into the trees forcing the Spaniard to reload and hit a provisional golf ball.
Rahm went on to par the hole and claim a four-stroke victory over Phil Mickelson and Brooks Koepka, but his actions on the tee surprised a few non-golfers and may well have raised eyebrows among even some of the more experienced golfers among us.
The rules for hitting a provisional ball are some of the most misunderstood in golf (not just by beginner golfers) and I thought I’d share a list of some of the most important aspects relating to the rule.
All of these situations are covered in Rule 18 in the Rules of Golf.
1. You can only play a provisional ball if you think your ball may be lost outside of a penalty area or out-of-bounds.
This is an often misunderstood rule so take note, these are the only two scenarios when you can play a provisional ball.
2. If you are virtually certain that your ball is in a penalty area (eg water hazard), do NOT hit a provisional.
You lose the right to drop the ball near the hazard in this scenario and your provisional ball was not, in fact, a provisional at all and was in play. (Decision 27-2a/2)
3. Make sure you announce that you are about to play a provisional ball.
Say something like “I’m hitting a provisional ball” and say it loud so there is no doubt as to what you are doing. You must include the words “provisional ball”. Simply saying “I’m going to re-load” or “I’ll hit another one” is not enough and your next shot may be automatically deemed in play.
4. If you hit a provisional ball because you think it may be lost, you have 3 minutes to search for it.
After that, your provisional ball is now in play.
5. You can hit the provisional ball as many times as you like until you reach the distance where your ball may be lost.
If you then find your original ball, then disregard the provisional and the number of shots you have played with it. If you don’t find your original ball, continue playing with your provisional ball.
6. Make sure you can differentiate between your first ball and your provisional ball
If you can’t do this then things can get murky real quick. For example, if you find that one ball is out-of-bounds and the other isn’t, and you can’t discern which is which, then the ball in play is assumed to be the provisional ball.
7. The provisional ball is much easier to hit straight than your original ball
Studies have shown that hitting a provisional ball will go three times straighter than your first ball.*
8. When playing a provisional from the tee it must be played after your playing partners have played their first shot.
If more than one golfer elects to play a provisional ball, the original order must be preserved.
9. If your original ball is found but deemed unplayable, the provisional ball cannot be played.
The provisional ball can only be played if the first ball is lost or out-of-bounds. In this case, play proceeds with the original ball under the rules for an unplayable lie – which may mean going back to the place the original ball was struck, under penalty of stroke and distance.
* This isn’t true as far as I’m aware but I think it’s crying out for a proper clinical trial.