October 1, 2020
Rule of the Month: Out of Bounds/Lost Ball/Provisional
Lost balls can cost you. Just ask Harris English, who opened the final round of the recent U.S. Open by losing a ball on the first tee (see below). As a result, his chances instantly plummeted. But there is also help should you find yourself in that situation.
If you hit your ball out of bounds or lose it (you have three minutes to search for your ball before it becomes lost), your only option is to go back to the spot of your previous stroke to play under stroke and distance. The only exceptions to this are if your ball is lost in a penalty area (when you can use any of the penalty area relief options) or lost in an abnormal ground condition or in an obstruction.
A final exception is when a new Local Rule which provides an alternative to stroke and distance relief is in effect. This Local Rule is recommended for casual play and not for competitions involving highly-skilled players. If it is in effect, for two penalty strokes, you can estimate the spot where your ball is lost or went out of bounds and then find the nearest fairway edge that is not nearer the hole than the estimated spot. You can drop a ball in the fairway within two club-lengths of that fairway edge point, or anywhere between there and the estimated spot where your ball is lost or went out of bounds. To see this visually and learn more about how this optional Local Rule works, click here.
If you think that your ball might be out bounds or that you might not find it, you can play a provisional ball to save time. You must announce that you are playing a provisional ball before doing so. If you are then unable to find your original ball, or you find it out of bounds, your provisional ball is your ball in play under stroke and distance, and you don’t have to take the time to walk all the way back to the spot of your previous stroke. Click here to learn more about playing a provisional ball.
— Jeremy Schilling (@jschil) September 20, 2020