Through the Green: Lost and found

Although Ian Poulter’s lost golf ball during the 2017 PGA Championship was eventually found, it was actually still lost. At least, according to the Rules of Golf.


Filed to: Rules of Golf

Have you ever lost something valuable — your cell phone, car keys, a piece of jewelry — only to find it later and let out a huge sigh of relief?

I clearly remember losing a baseball when I was 10, which was a pretty valuable thing at that age. A friend and I were playing catch in the lot next to my childhood home. I tossed the ball errantly, and it narrowly missed the house and went into a long row of junipers, disappearing. We had seen the trajectory, and thought it would be relatively easy to find the ball by searching the area around the shrubs.

Nope. We looked and looked, but we couldn’t find it. We were almost ready to give up when we had an ingenious idea: We would re-create the throw with the same trajectory and speed, but would closely watch the bounce and roll of the ball when it entered the junipers. I got a different ball, returned to the same throwing spot, proceeded with my throwing motion, and launched the ball exactly as I had the first. My friend watched as it entered the stand of junipers, bounced, and then rolled under and through the bushes, traveling another 30 yards across a driveway before, much to our surprise, coming to a stop right next to the first ball I had thrown.

Our juvenile yet ultimately brilliant plan had worked. We were no doubt elated, but more because our strategy was potentially patentable than because we had found the original ball. We had reaffirmed our beliefs that our career paths would lead to us being brain surgeons or rocket scientists.

All of this leads me to the PGA Championship at Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, N.C., in August, where Ian Poulter lost his golf ball after an errant, fading drive on the eighth hole of his last round. His ball was eventually found, but it was still actually lost.

“Huh?” you may be asking. Well, according to the Rules of Golf, Poulter’s ball was found well after the five-minute period allowed by Rule 27-1 had passed. During that period, no one was sure whether the ball was in the lateral water hazard that made up much of the far right side of that hole. When they found the ball, it was not in the hazard, but as far as the Rules were concerned, the original ball no longer existed, and was, therefore, no longer in play.

How Poulter proceeded from this point gets very complicated and confusing, and could be the subject of several other columns. After much arguing and complaining, Poulter took relief from the lateral water hazard, ignoring his original lost-but-then-found ball that wasn’t in the hazard at all. Poulter took a beating on social media for his reaction to the situation, which just demonstrates that, in the long run, any professional athlete’s public display of superiority over a referee is received poorly by the general public.

I try to imagine the Rules makers sitting around a table discussing “lost ball” criteria for the first time. If you were on that committee and someone at the table said, “If a lost ball is found after more than five minutes, it’s still lost,” how would you respond? If I were there, I think I’d have to say, “No, a ball that was lost and is then found is a found ball, not a lost ball.” That’s probably why I would never be allowed on such a committee. It’s analogous to me saying that if I think someone is wearing a purple shirt from a distance but I get closer and see that it’s black, the shirt is still purple because I originally thought it was purple.

My wife frequently misplaces personal items — and sometimes even our pets — around the house. On the other hand, my level of organization is such that losing anything is never part of my modus operandi. (I may be exaggerating just a bit here.) I suspect we may invoke a Rules of Golf approach the next time she misplaces something.

Her: “Honey, do you know where Eli (our dog) is?”
Me: “No. How long have you been searching?”
Her: “Why?”
Me: “Well, if it’s been longer than five minutes and you find him, we’ll have to declare him lost forever.”
Her: “No more annoying barking, mandated walks, boarding costs or in-house accidents? It’s been six minutes.”

Jack Fry, Ph.D., is a professor of turfgrass science and the director of the Rocky Ford Turfgrass Research Center at Kansas State University in Manhattan. He is a 20-year educator member of GCSAA.

Filed to: Rules of Golf