One of the most effective tools to combat slow play is to play “ready golf” – play when you are ready, without regard to honors on the tee or distance from the hole. Although Rule 10 specifies order of play, the rules are flexible enough to accommodate ready golf because there generally is no penalty for playing out of turn.
A player (or side in match play) who wins a hole takes the honor on the next teeing ground. In a handicap match, honors on the tee is determined by the best net score on the previous hole. During the play of the hole, the ball farthest from the hole is played first.
So what happens if you play out of turn? In stroke play, there is no penalty, unless it is determined that competitors have agreed to play out of turn to give one of them an advantage (in which case they are disqualified). If players agree to play out of turn to save time, there is no penalty.
In match play, there is no penalty for playing out of turn, but your opponent may require you to recall the stroke and replay the shot. So if you steal your opponent’s honor on a par-3 and land your ball 3-feet from the hole, your opponent likely will tell you to re-tee. (On the other hand, he’d probably let you keep your shot in the woods.)
However, as in stroke play, competitors in match play may agree to play out of turn to save time. In that case, a player may not recall a shot played out of turn. (Don’t expect to see this happen in the Ryder Cup matches at Gleneagles; playing second is a strategic advantage in match play.)
Generally, although it violates the order of play rule, the USGA and R&A take the view that putting out of turn speeds play and is not discouraged. Much time can be saved by putting out around the hole rather than marking, lifting, and replacing your ball. If an opponent requests that you lift your ball on the putting green because it interferes with his line of putt, you are entitled to putt first rather than lift the ball even if he objects.
If you are playing a four-ball match (either stroke play or match play), you and your partner are free to decide who plays first, without regard to distance from the hole, provided this does not unduly delay play.
If two players hit their balls into a lateral water hazard and choose to take relief, the player whose ball lies farthest from the hole in the hazard plays first, even if his competitor’s ball last crossed the margin of the hazard farther from the hole. If both balls are lost in the hazard, the order of play should be decided by lot.
Play ready golf to speed play. While it violates the order of play rules, the USGA will look the other way. That foot wedge, however, is another issue.
Jack Ross completed an intensive PGA/USGA rules workshop. He also contributes rules columns to ESPN.com.
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