Accidental Deflections, A How-To Guide
By Daniela Lendl, USGA Rules Department
There are a lot of things on a golf course that can deflect your ball while it is in motion. Accidental deflections is an area that has become significantly easier to understand and apply in the 2019 Rules of Golf thanks to the new general outcome that you will play your ball as it lies with no penalty.
However, there are still some exceptions when playing your ball as it lies is not an option. Let’s take a deeper look. It is important to note that some Local Rules might change where you play your ball from.
When You Play Your Ball from the Teeing Area, General Area, Bunker or Penalty Area
Generally speaking, a ball that is accidentally deflected while in motion is played as it lies from where it comes to rest with no penalty. When the stroke is made from anywhere except the putting green, this will always be true, with one exception. If your ball comes to rest on a person, a living animal or moving outside influence (such as a golf cart that is moving), you will not play it as it lies. In this case, you would be required to take free relief by dropping the original ball or another ball in a one club-length relief area measured from the spot directly under where your ball came to rest on the person, living animal or moving outside influence.
To help paint a clearer picture, here is an example:
If you hit your ball and it comes to rest in the back of a golf cart that was moving, you must follow these steps:
- Estimate the spot where the ball first came to rest on the golf cart.
- Find the spot directly under where your ball first came to rest on the golf cart (this is your reference point).
- Drop the original ball or another ball in a one club-length relief area from the reference point.
When You Play Your Ball from the Putting Green
When your stroke is made from the putting green, the answer is not as simple as play the ball as it lies. The putting green is a special place where a lot of special Rules apply, and deflections are no different. There are several cases when you play your ball from the putting green and, because it accidentally hits something or someone, the stroke will not count and must be replayed. This is true if your ball accidentally hits any person, a living animal or a movable obstruction (with some exceptions). It is also true if you deliberately hit a flagstick that is being attended or was removed.
Starting with the premise that you will play your ball as it lies when it is accidentally deflected, let’s take a look at some examples:
If your ball hits any loose impediment (such as a leaf, twig or acorn) or accidentally hits a flagstick that is being attended or has been removed, you will play the ball as it lies. In both match play and stroke play, if your ball hits another ball in play that is at rest on the putting green, you will always play it as it lies (although a penalty will apply in stroke play).
As mentioned earlier, the putting green is a special place with special Rules and there are many times where your stroke will not count. Some common examples are: if your ball accidentally hits a club that was lying on the green, another ball that is in motion on the green, a flagstick that you place somewhere to stop your ball, or a living worm that is on the putting green, your stroke does not count and you must replace the original ball or another ball on the original spot and play again.
Why is this important to know?
Although the above examples show that your ball will generally be played from where it comes to rest after it accidentally hits something or someone, this is not always the case. As we saw above, the Rules often include exceptions, which are usually put in place for the sake of fairness. To learn more, check out Rule 11 in the 2019 Rules of Golf.