WEEK 5 —RULE 20Whenever a player deviates, by choice or requirement, from the concept of "play the ball as it lies," he employs Rule 20.
The most common and simple example of the use of Rule 20 is the player who lifts his ball from the putting green. The requirement, in Rule 16-1b, that the lifted ball be replaced leads the player to Rule 20-1 and its specification that the position of the ball be marked before the ball is lifted. Additionally, the Note to Rule 20-1 describes the recommended method of marking the position of the ball.
From that simple start, Rule 20 picks up the pace in Rules 20-2a and 20-2b where the following topics are discussed:
The pace continues with Rule 20-3 explaining the requirements regarding balls that are to be placed (on some spot) or replaced (i.e. returned to the spot from which they were lifted or moved). Like Rule 20-2, Rule 20-3 explains:
Now that the player has dropped or placed his ball, Rule 20-4 reminds him that this dropped or placed ball is his ball in play. Note that this straightforward reminder applies equally to dropped balls that meet all of the requirements of Rule 20-2 and those that must be re-dropped under any part of that Rule. Likewise, the ball that was lifted from the putting green, under Rule 16-1b, in the second paragraph above is again in play when it is replaced even if the coin or similar object marking its position remains behind the replaced ball.
Occasionally (hopefully, rarely), a player will be required to play his next stroke from the spot of his previous stroke. Rule 20-5 explains how the player does so.
Prior to making a stroke with the ball that has been put into (or back into) play by dropping or placing it, the player has one last chance to correct any errors associated with putting the ball into play. Rule 20-6 allows the player to lift a ball that was improperly substituted (e.g. the player replaced a different ball on the putting green), or was dropped or placed in a wrong place or in a manner contrary to the Rules to be lifted without penalty. The player may then proceed correctly.
Finally, Rule 20 concludes with Rule 20-7 and the penalties for playing from a wrong place in match play and stroke play. The player is considered to have played from a wrong place if: play is not permitted from the part of the course where the ball was played (e.g. from a wrong putting green), or if the player was required to re-drop the ball or to replace a moved ball and failed to do so before making his next stroke.
In match play, the penalty for playing from a wrong place is quick and easy: loss of hole.
In stroke play, the penalty gets more complicated. The player incurs a two-stroke penalty and will complete play of the hole with the ball played from a wrong place. However, if the player commits a serious breach of Rule 20-7c (i.e. gains a significant advantage in the view of the Committee) by playing from a wrong place, then the player is required to correct his serious breach and report this correction to the Committee.
Reprinted with permission from the USGA.