Rule of the Month: When "Do Overs" Are Permitted

By Senior Rules Officials, Pete Scholz and Terry McEvilly

It is hard to believe we are already half-way through 2024 and Rule 14. If you have read the past six articles, you now understand the importance of this Rule. Understanding when a ball must be marked before lifting, how to properly drop, and when a ball is properly back in play, to highlight just a few, is essential. Rule 14 is too important for just a simple glance from time to time. Granted, it is not a riveting read and will likely start your head nodding. But, persevere, the end is in sight. Albeit, a distant sight. We continue this month with Rule 14.4 and a look at when a ball is back in play after the original ball is out of play. Additionally, we will look at Rule 14.5, which will allow a player to correct an error and/or when a player is required to correct an error. This Rule is your “get out of jail free” card, a free pass, the final trump card. Okay, enough with the metaphors, let’s get to it.

Test your knowledge regarding when a ball is back in play and how and when to fix errors when putting a ball back into play with the following questions. To bolster your score, read through Rules 14.4 and 14.5 and the accompanied Clarifications in the Official Guide to the Rules of Golf or the USGA Rules of Golf app before attempting the questions.

Questions: True / False

1) A player drops a ball from waist height into a relief area. Since it was not dropped correctly, the ball is not in play.

2) A ball becomes no longer in play when it is lifted from the course, is lost (not found within three minutes) or is out of bounds.

3) If a ball is returned to the course with the intent for it to be in play, it becomes the player’s ball in play even if it was substituted when not allowed or replaced, dropped or placed in a wrong place, in a wrong way or by using a procedure that did not apply.

4) Correction of the errors mentioned in Question #3 must be made before making a stroke from the next teeing area.

5) When using the lateral relief option for a ball in a red penalty area, the correctly dropped ball comes to rest outside the relief area. A second drop is required and the player must use the same relief option under Rule 17.

6) If a ball is dropped in a correct spot but in a wrong way, such as from waist height, but not played, the player must drop a ball again and may change to a different relief option.

7) When a ball is put into play under a Rule that applies to the situation, but the ball was dropped or placed in a wrong place (not played), the player must correct the error and may use any relief option under the same Rule used.

8) For a ball known to be in a red penalty area, a player uses the back-on-the-line relief option, but drops the ball two feet to the right of the line (ball not played). When correcting the error, the player may move forward or backwards on the line, or change to the lateral relief option of two club-lengths from where it last crossed the edge of the penalty area.

9) When a ball is put into play (but not played) using a Rule that does not apply, in correcting the error, the player may use any Rule that applies to their situation.

10) A ball came to rest on a dirt path that the Committee had declared to be an integral part of the course from which free relief is not available. Thinking that free relief was available, the player left the original ball on the path and dropped another ball in a relief area. Before playing the dropped ball, the player is informed that relief is not allowed and the player continues play with the original ball, incurring no penalty.



1) False. Rule 14.4. If the player makes a stroke at the improperly dropped ball, he or she gets one penalty stroke.

2) True. Rule 14.4. These are some of the ways a ball becomes out of play. The player can’t declare a ball out of play.

3) True. Rule 14.4. This answer has bad and good news. First the bad. If a ball has been returned to the course as described, the player gets a penalty if he or she makes a stroke at the ball. Secondly, the good news is that the errors mentioned can all be fixed. Read on.

4) False. Rule 14.5a. There are several situations in the Rules that require a player to correct an error before playing from the next teeing area. However, in order to avoid penalty for the mentioned breaches, the error must be corrected before the ball is played.

5) True. Rule 14.5b(1). See Answer #6

6) False. Rule 14.5b(1). In correcting both of these situations (Questions #5 and #6), the player must continue to take relief using the same Rule and relief option as originally used. In other words, if a properly dropped ball rolls out of the relief area or if a ball is dropped incorrectly in regards to Rule 14.3b(1) and (2), the player is not allowed to change to another Rule or to a different relief option of the same Rule.

7) True. Rule 14.5b(2). In this situation, since the ball was put into play using a Rule that applied, the player is not allowed to change to a different Rule. However, since the ball was dropped in a wrong place, the player must go on to take relief using any of the options under the same Rule.

8) True. Rule 15.5b(2). This question is an example of the situation in #7. Since this player proceeded under an applicable Rule, but dropped the ball in a wrong place, he or she must continue to use the same Rule but may change relief options or even move the relief area further or closer to the hole if using the back-on-the-line option.

9) True. Rule 14.5b(3). Provided the ball has not been played, the player may abandon or lift the dropped ball without penalty and proceed according to any Rule that applies to the situation. See Question #10 for an example.

10) True. Rule 14.5b(3). Truly a “get out of jail free” card. The player incurs no penalty for the action since the dropped ball was not played and the original ball was not lifted from the path. Had the player lifted the original ball, one of their options would have been to replace the moved ball, incurring a one-stroke penalty for moving their ball in play under Rule 9.4b. Since the player proceeded under a Rule that did not apply, they must proceed under any Rule that applies.