I think my ball's in that tree...

Decision 27/15 in the Decisions on the Rules of Golf deals with a case where a player is certain that his ball is lodged high in a tree, and he can see a ball in the tree, but cannot identify it as his. The Decision states that the ball is lost and the player has to proceed under penalty of stroke and distance.

This was the prospect facing Jerry Kelly during the third round of the Honda Classic, until he got a helpful hand from technology, which, as we have seen in recent months, can often work to the player’s disadvantage.

Kelly was unable to see his green identification line when looking at a ball embedded in a tree with the naked eye, and so he tried to identify it with the aid of binoculars, but that didn’t help.

Then it was suggested that he take a look at a photograph taken by one of the accredited photographers, and it was only when the picture of the ball was magnified on the camera screen that Kelly felt confident that he could see his mark on the ball. Even then the first Rules official on the scene felt that it was prudent to call in the Chief Referee for a second opinion.

Officials used a high-resolution camera to identify the ball.Kelly took one of the balls from his bag to show the officials how his ball would be marked. Chief Referee, Slugger White, first took out his glasses to look at the camera screen, and then reached for a magnifying glass, demonstrating the extent of the equipment that a diligent Rules official carries.

Although the five-minute search period had now expired, the ball, if it proved to be Kelly’s ball, had been found within the five minutes, and in such a case Decision 27/5.5 allows for identification to take place after five minutes have elapsed.

After much discussion, the officials agreed that they could see Kelly’s green line on the ball. Consequently, rather than returning to where he last played, Kelly was able to deem the ball unplayable under penalty of one stroke (Rule 28) and, using the point on the ground immediately below the place where the ball lay in the tree as the reference point for taking relief, he was able to drop a ball within two club-lengths of that spot no nearer the hole (Decision 28/11). He then managed to get the ball up and down for what the player later described as “a damn good bogey”.

Identifying Ball Essentials:

  • Make sure you put an identification mark on your ball.
  • There is no prohibition against using an artificial device, such as binoculars or a camera, to identify a ball.
  • If a player identifies a ball in a tree as his, he does not have to retrieve the ball if he elects to proceed under the unplayable ball Rule.
  • If a player is advised that his ball may have been found, he cannot refuse to identify the ball if it would still be the ball in play.