Lee Janzen’s Ball Falls from Tree

Monday, June 11, 2012

San Francisco – During the final round of the 1998 U.S. Open at The Olympic Club’s Lake Course, Lee Janzen’s tee shot on the par-4 fifth hole flew into an area of large cypress trees to the right of the fairway. He walked to the area where he believed his ball had come to rest and began a search for it. After two or three minutes, he became convinced that he would not be able to find the ball and started walking back to the tee to hit another ball. Moments after he began that return, a gust of wind blew the ball down from a tree. You can read more about this incident and a similar incident that happened to Tommy Nakajima in the 1987 US Open here. But what are the Rules involved in these incidents?

The Definition of “Lost Ball” states that a ball is deemed “lost” in five different cases. The one that most golfers are familiar with is when the player has searched for five minutes and has not found or identified his ball (Rule 27-1c –Ball Not Found Within Five Minutes). When Janzen arrived at the area where the ball is likely to be and began searching, the clock was started.  Since he started to return to the tee before the five-minute period had elapsed, his ball was still not lost.  He could not declare the ball lost as the Rules do not allow a player to declare his ball lost.

When the ball fell from the tree within 5 minutes of the time that he had begun searching for it and he had not yet put another ball into play, he was allowed to return to the area to determine if it was his ball. Once he had identified the ball as his, he continued play that ball and made a miraculous par 4.

Which of the four other ways that a ball would be deemed lost could have applied in this case?

Janzen’s intent on returning to the tee was to put another ball into play under penalty of stroke and distance (see Lost Ball – case “C”). Even though five minutes might not have elapsed, putting another ball into play in this manner makes the original ball lost. A ball is put into play in different ways depending on where the player is playing from. In Janzen’s case, he would have been putting the ball into play from the teeing ground. The Definition of “Ball in Play” says that a ball is in play from the teeing ground when the player has made a stroke at it.

Therefore, even if he had teed the ball when his original ball fell from the tree within 5 minutes he could have still played the original ball.  Had he played his original ball from an area through the green or in a hazard he would have been required to drop a ball where he had last played.  In that case, the moment he dropped a substituted ball it would have become his ball in play (Rule 20-4 – When Ball Dropped or Placed is in Play) and the original ball would be deemed lost.

Had Janzen realized that his ball might be lost before he left the teeing ground after his original stroke, he could have played a provisional ball (Rule 27-2 – Provisional Ball). Provisional balls may be played whenever a player believes his ball may be out of bounds or lost somewhere outside of a water hazard. A provisional ball must be played before the player goes forward to search for the original ball. Since he did not play a provisional before going forward to search, he could NOT go back and play one later.

The provisional ball is not the player’s ball in play until his original ball becomes lost. Another way a ball is deemed lost is when the player makes a stroke at the provisional ball from a point equal to where the original ball is believed to be or from any point nearer the hole than that point (Lost Ball – case “B”).  This means that you could potentially make multiple strokes at the provisional before reaching the area where you believe original ball finished, then search for the original and then, if you are unsuccessful in your search, you would then continue with the provisional ball. 

Remember that if you find the original in bounds before the Rules deem it lost, you are required to abandon the provisional.

For more information on the Rules of Golf, go to the Rules of Golf page at http://www.usga.org or watch the Rules of Golf videos at http://www.usga-rules.com/.

Written by John Van der Borght, Manager of Rules Communications for the USGA.

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