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Unplayable Lie
Taking Relief From the Impossible

Learn the rules for declaring a ball unplayable and taking relief.  Unplayable Shots

Many years ago I was competing in the finals of the District Championship and early in the round my well struck tee ball that was virtually right down the middle of the fairway landed in a yucca bush. The bush was just on the edge of the fairway where it dog legged and was used by the course as the 150 yard marker. I was of course beside myself as I learned that not only did I need to take a drop, but that it was not a "free" drop. I was forced to add a stroke to my score and take an unplayable lie. Of course in my opinion, having a bush like that on the edge of the fairway is not a good decision, but many courses have them and other trees, bushes, etc. that can grab your ball even if you've hit a decent shot.

Hit a Good Shot and Get Penalized?

You may recall several instances where tour players have had their golf balls lodged up in a tree. It's not too uncommon to see them climbing a tree to find their ball. It seems this has happened to Nick Faldo several times. Most notably was in 1999 in the final round of the Player's Championship when his ball got stuck in a palm tree and he actually got disqualified for failing to identify it.

It definitely seems that if you don't hit your ball in a hazard or out of bounds and you keep it in play that you shouldn't be penalized, but unfortunately the rule is that if you can't hit it, you must declare it unplayable. Be sure not to make the same mistake as Nick Faldo and identify the ball to make sure 1) it's yours and 2) you can see it so it's not a lost ball. If you can't find the ball you need to declare it lost and proceed under the lost ball rules.

The rule for an unplayable lie Rule 28 as written in the USGA Rules of Golf is as follows:

"The player may deem his ball unplayable at any place on the course, except when the ball is in a water hazard. The player is the sole judge as to whether his ball is unplayable.

If the player deems his ball to be unplayable, he must, under penalty of one stroke:

a. Proceed under the stroke and distance provision of Rule 27-1 by playing a ball as nearly as possible at the spot from which the original ball was last played (see Rule 20-5); or

b. Drop a ball behind the point where the ball lay, keeping that point directly between the hole and the spot on which the ball is dropped, with no limit to how far behind that point the ball may be dropped; or

c. Drop a ball within two club-lengths of the spot where the ball lay, but not nearer the hole. If the unplayable ball is in a bunker, the player may proceed under Clause a, b or c. If he elects to proceed under Clause b or c, a ball must be dropped in the bunker.

When proceeding under this Rule, the player may lift and clean his ball or substitute a ball."

Rules Are There to Protect You

While it may seem unfair to hit a pretty decent shot and then have to take an unplayable lie look at the flip side. If your ball ended up in a yucca bush like mine, a palm tree like Faldo's, or inside a hole can you imagine what it would be like if you had to play it? Some lies are just flat impossible to get out of so attempting them is not even worth it. So in a way, this rule is very protective and looking out for your best interest and the interest of speeding up play.

If you think your ball landed in an unplayable condition, be sure to inform your playing partners so they can help you look for it. Make sure to find it and identify it and then announce to your partners that you are declaring it unplayable. Remember, if you don't find it it is lost and you need to proceed under the lost ball rule. Once you declare it unplayable proceed under one of the 3 options listed above. Whenever possible I recommend using distance to your advantage and dropping 2 club lengths from the spot where the ball lay unless it doesn't give you a clear shot.

Maria Palozola

Maria Palozola is a member of the LPGA and has participated in multiple LPGA Tour events. She has provided instruction to thousands of students in the past 20+ years and has won multiple teaching awards from the LPGA, Golf Digest, and Golf Magazine including being ranked as one of the top 50 female instructors in the world.

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