Friday, July 10, 2015

The "One Ball Rule" in the Spotlight

Over the past month or so there have been several interesting rulings involving the “One Ball” Condition.  The NCGA does not use the “One Ball Rule” in its competitions, but this time of year we are running a lot of USGA Qualifying sites and so issues with the “One Ball” condition come up.
For those who are unaware what the “One Ball” condition is, it is an optional Condition of the competition that requires the player to play the exact same model and brand as detailed by a single entry on the List of Conforming Golf Balls (see Appendix I-C-1c).  This means that you could not use a Top-Flite distance ball on the par-5 holes and then switch to an ultra-spin ball for the par-3 holes. (Or as you'll find out, it means you can't use a yellow ball to start, and then a white version of the same ball).
I’m going to work backwards in time starting with the most recent situation

Breach on the Final Hole
                During US Amateur Sectional Qualifying at Diablo Country Club, a player breached the “One Ball” condition on the final hole of the second 18-holes.  He had hit his last ball of the correct model out of bounds and lost, and knowingly put into play a different model ball to finish the round.  The player came into scoring convinced that he was disqualified. But that’s not what the Rule says.  The penalty for a breach of the condition in stroke play is two strokes for each hole at which the breach occurred with a maximum of four total penalty strokes per round.  Moreover, the Condition does not require the player to abandon the ball immediately; he must make sure to play the proper ball from the next teeing ground.  Well, there is no next teeing ground in this case.
                So when the player came into scoring, he had already written the letters DQ in on his final hole.  When I asked him if he holed out with the incorrect model ball, he said yes and he was shocked when I told him he was not disqualified, but had to apply a two-stroke penalty to the final hole.  He laughed because he played the hole so poorly that he had to ask his marker to help determine his score for the hole.  Needless to say, the very nice gentleman did not qualify.

Hale Irwin at the US Senior Open
                While we do run into breaches of the “One Ball” condition regularly at qualifying stages, it is incredibly rare to see a breach at the championship level.  On the 16th hole at the US Senior Open (I was walking down the adjacent 8th with my group), I overheard on the radio a call that I couldn’t quite believe. The referee was confirming the penalty for a breach of the “One Ball Rule” by Hale Irwin.  Irwin had hit his ball into the water hazard and had to drop another ball.  His caddie grabbed a ball from the bag, Irwin dropped and played.  When Irwin marked his ball on the green he realized he had a problem.  Irwin told the referee with his group who confirmed the two-stroke penalty and he had to play the correct model of play at the next teeing ground. 
                I was penalized under the “One Ball” Rule once in US Amateur Qualifying and I never carried more than one model of ball in my bag ever again.  I’m still amazed there was even another kind of ball in the bag.

Yellow vs. White
                During qualifying for the US Senior Open, there was a unique non-penalty situation that occurred with one of the eventual qualifiers.  One of our prominent senior amateurs typically plays a yellow golf ball.  On one hole, he needed to hit a provisional and hit a white golf ball of the same make and model as his provisional. 
                The problem was, the white and the yellow versions of that same golf ball are actually listed as separate entries on the List of Conforming Golf balls meaning that if you start with a yellow ball, you need to play the yellow ball all the way through the round.  The player found his original ball within five minutes of beginning to search for it and continued with the yellow ball for the rest of the round.
                But had he breached the “One Ball” condition by playing the wrong kind of ball as the provisional?  The answer is no.  Since the provisional ball never became the ball in play, he was not in breach of the “One Ball” condition (see Decision 5-1/3 for support).  Everyone exhaled and the player went on to qualify and play in the US Senior Open.

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