Two Points of Discussion - 'Virtually Certain' and Stroke & Distance

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Orikoru

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Not really looking for clarification but more a point of discussion following the Club Champs I played in last weekend. I don't play loads of competitions with other people outside my mates, so it's interesting the sort of discussions you end up having, particularly about the rules.

The first one people were discussion is what I'll sum up as the 'virtually certain' rule. Our 8th tee off the whites has a pond in play in the right hand rough. Everyone knows where it is and knows full well when they're heading towards it, but from the tee you cannot physically see the pond itself. In the discussion basically somebody said that the consensus of the group he was in was that you have to physically see the ball go into the hazard in order to take a drop out of it. I mentioned to him that if your group all confirm you were heading for that pond off the tee, and when you get down there you don't the ball around the pond - that could be enough grounds to be virtually certain you've gone in the pond and thus take the drop (rather than it being a lost ball and over to your provisional). He agreed with me that he thought that was the rule but he'd been kind of outvoted on it. He also reckoned this was a relatively recent rule change and hence the older members hadn't got themselves up to date on it yet.

I know it has been discussed here before, but I'm still surprised that a phrase like 'virtually certain' exists in the rulebook since it's not black and white and open to a bit of interpretation. If everyone in my group agreed that the tee shot was heading straight for the pond, and that it's most likely in there if you don't find it, that would be good enough for me, and for others like the guy I was talking to. But then there are obviously people who wouldn't be comfortable agreeing that - so you have an inconsistency there across the field, which is exactly what the rules are supposed to avoid. Would you say you have to physically see the ball enter the water with a splash to be virtually certain? I'd wager we get about 50-50 responses on that here too.

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The second point was on day two, due to circumstances I was in a two ball with another chap. On the blind par 3 3rd I sadly knifed my tee shot into the wooded area that you're supposed to go over the top of. I thought I saw it hop left into some long grass so I went for a look. The other chap asked me if I want to play a provisional, I said no because it hasn't gone that far anyway, and if I find it and don't like I can just go back to the tee regardless under stroke and distance. He said he thought if you find it you have to play it. I said no, if I find it, I can say it's unplayable and retake my previous shot under penalty i.e. in this case playing 3 off the tee. He wasn't aware of this rule. As I'm sure you're thinking right now - it's not often I'm the one who has more knowledge of the rules than my playing partners but there you go. That's definitely one I've learned from being on this forum, so it has it's merits! (Ultimately I didn't even find the ball so went back to hit 3 off the tee anyway, on my way to making a solid triple bogey.)

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I have lumped two things together here, but you could loosely file them both under 'rules that potentially help rather than hinder the player'. ;)
 

Steven Rules

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Ooops. Sorry.

From the Definitions:

Known or virtually certain means more than just possible or probable. It means that either:
There is conclusive evidence that the event in question happened to the player's ball, such as when the player or other witnesses saw it happen, or
Although there is a very small degree of doubt, all reasonably available information shows that it is at least 95% likely that the event in question happened.
"All reasonably available information" includes all information the player knows and all other information he or she can get with reasonable effort and without unreasonable delay.
 

RichA

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I would have thought it depends on your course and what's around the water.
At ours, you pretty much need to see it go into a couple of the water hazards to be reasonably certain. If the ball just made it over it could easily bounce and roll another 50 yards into the woods or the long grass. I hit driver towards a small pond about 200 yards away the other day. PP and I were fairly sure it was wet and as it was just a practice round I didn't play another ball. I found the original ball nearly 100 yards further down in the middle of the fairway. Loads of bounce and roll at the moment with the ground being rock hard.
 
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Orikoru

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I would have thought it depends on your course and what's around the water.
At ours, you pretty much need to see it go into a couple of the water hazards to be reasonably certain. If the ball just made it over it could easily bounce and roll another 50 yards into the woods or the long grass. I hit driver towards a small pond about 200 yards away the other day. PP and I were fairly sure it was wet and as it was just a practice round I didn't play another ball. I found the original ball nearly 100 yards further down in the middle of the fairway. Loads of bounce and roll at the moment with the ground being rock hard.
It's fairly open around the pond. A few isolated large trees. The rough is not too long. If you carried over the pond you'd expect to find it unless it randomly carried 20 yards further than you'd expect.

Known or virtually certain means more than just possible or probable. It means that either:
There is conclusive evidence that the event in question happened to the player's ball, such as when the player or other witnesses saw it happen, or
Although there is a very small degree of doubt, all reasonably available information shows that it is at least 95% likely that the event in question happened.
"All reasonably available information" includes all information the player knows and all other information he or she can get with reasonable effort and without unreasonable delay.
So as I say, this is pretty subjective, no? How's a person supposed to accurately gauge between 90 and 95% certainty level? I think plenty of people would think "it was heading directly for the pond, it's not beyond or short of it, ergo I'm 95% sure it's gone in".
 

Steven Rules

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He said he thought if you find it you have to play it. I said no, if I find it, I can say it's unplayable and retake my previous shot under penalty i.e. in this case playing 3 off the tee. He wasn't aware of this rule
You are correct.

His confusion might be that if you find your original ball you must abandon your provisional ball (if you played a provisional) but that isn't the scenario you presented here. Rule 18.3c(3)
 

Steven Rules

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How's a person supposed to accurately gauge between 90 and 95% certainty level?
Sometimes I have this very same doubt about my own ability to judge 95%.
I would have thought it depends on your course and what's around the water.
Definitely. Absolutely correct.

Is there any chance - a 6% chance - it could have bounced off a tree? (I have had balls end up in the rough on the other side of the fairway after hitting a tree.) Is there any chance it could be in the rough? Is there any chance it could have embedded in the general area adjacent to the penalty area? Is there any chance it could have hit a sprinkler head (or similar) and bounced a big distance? Is there any chance it could be out of bounds? Is there any chance nobody in the group was actually watching?
 

salfordlad

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It's fairly open around the pond. A few isolated large trees. The rough is not too long. If you carried over the pond you'd expect to find it unless it randomly carried 20 yards further than you'd expect.


So as I say, this is pretty subjective, no? How's a person supposed to accurately gauge between 90 and 95% certainty level? I think plenty of people would think "it was heading directly for the pond, it's not beyond or short of it, ergo I'm 95% sure it's gone in".
If there is rough around the penalty area that can hide a ball, it is unlikely you can have 95 per certainty without seeing it go in. I think it is easier to answer the question is there more than a 5 per cent probability the ball is outside the penalty area? If yes, it's S&D.
 

Colin L

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The first one people were discussion is what I'll sum up as the 'virtually certain' rule. Our 8th tee off the whites has a pond in play in the right hand rough. Everyone knows where it is and knows full well when they're heading towards it, but from the tee you cannot physically see the pond itself. In the discussion basically somebody said that the consensus of the group he was in was that you have to physically see the ball go into the hazard in order to take a drop out of it. I mentioned to him that if your group all confirm you were heading for that pond off the tee, and when you get down there you don't the ball around the pond - that could be enough grounds to be virtually certain you've gone in the pond and thus take the drop (rather than it being a lost ball and over to your provisional).
That's all spot on. You don't have to see the ball enter a penalty area to have virtual certainty it has not only gone into but come to rest in it. You can use the evidence of closely mown ground round the PA and no sign of your ball in the area but to my mind if there is any possibility that it could be hiding somewhere else outside the PA, you're stuffed. When you say "It's fairly open around the pond. A few isolated large trees. The rough is not too long. If you carried over the pond you'd expect to find it unless it randomly carried 20 yards further than you'd expect, " that seems to me far too open to various possibilities of the ball being somewhere other than in the PA and Steven has gone into the matter of chances. I must say I find putting a figure on virtual certainty is completely unhelpful as I don't have the arithmetical skills to work out the percentage likelihood of a golf ball being in one place or another. As a rule of thumb, 95% defeats my thumbs but perhaps not his.
 

Steven Rules

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....that seems to me far too open to various possibilities of the ball being somewhere other than in the PA and Steven has gone into the matter of chances. I must say I find putting a figure on virtual certainty is completely unhelpful
Agreed.

Like you, I don’t profess any special expertise in recognising or determining 95%.

To me, phrases like "I'm pretty sure....." or "I think....." aren't indicative of virtual certainty.

In my humble opinion, the phrase used in the original post "it's most likely in there" is probably not an expression of virtual certainty either.
 
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And remember - to choose to use stroke and distance your ball doesn’t need to be unplayable (though in most circumstances S&D will be used because you decide that it is unplayable. In fact you can choose to take stroke and distance in any circumstance. No matter where on the course you are (there may be some exceptions I can’t think of off top of my head) you can choose to go to where you last hit the ball, and play from there. Plus the place you go to (from where you played your previous shot) can be closer to the flag..the only time the word ‘back‘ has relevance in context of S&D is in respect of ‘time’.

So for example you putt off the green from 3ft away and end up miles away or indeed in rough or a bunker, then you can choose to use S&D and putt it back on the green, 3ft from the hole.

[note…having posted the above I am doubting myself as to whether or not I can use S&D if doing so ends up with me putting the ball back to a point closer to hole than where it ended up]
 
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Orikoru

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Agreed.

Like you, I don’t profess any special expertise in recognising or determining 95%.

To me, phrases like "I'm pretty sure....." or "I think....." aren't indicative of virtual certainty.

In my humble opinion, the phrase used in the original post "it's most likely in there" is probably not an expression of virtual certainty either.
All of which is exactly why I'm surprised the word 'virtually' is in the rule. It's impossible to define. "It's most likely in there" is only a short leap to "it has to be in there" by process of elimination, in my mind at least. If the rule just said you had to be 'certain' it would be harsher on the golfer, but at least it would make sense.

I reiterate, the rule being worded as it is now, and based on the conversations I've heard like the one I mentioned, I wouldn't be surprised if you had an even split in the field where some are taking drops, and others are hitting provisionals and taking that instead. The only caveat that evens it out I would say is that dropping it behind the pond doesn't give you much to aim at, so it's probably a punch back to the fairway so you're playing your 4th shot from there either way.
 
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Orikoru

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And remember - to choose to use stroke and distance your ball doesn’t need to be unplayable (though in most circumstances S&D will be used because you decide that it is unplayable. In fact you can choose to take stroke and distance in any circumstance. No matter where on the course you are (there may be some exceptions I can’t think of off top of my head) you can choose to go to where you last hit the ball, and play from there. Plus the place you go to (from where you played your previous shot) can be closer to the flag..the only time the word ‘back‘ has relevance in context of S&D is in respect of ‘time’.

So for example you putt off the green from 3ft away and end up miles away or indeed in rough or a bunker, then you can choose to use S&D and putt it back on the green, 3ft from the hole.

[note…having posted the above I am doubting myself as to whether or not I can use S&D if doing so ends up with me putting the ball back to a point closer to hole than where it ended up]
That putting into the bunker example is always used (maybe by you..) and is why I always remember the rule from this forum, haha. I can just imagine the brass neck of actually doing that though when nobody else in your group knows the rule - just staring at you in disbelief.
 

wjemather

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Unless someone has witnessed it go in, I think it's almost impossible to be virtually certain that a ball has entered a penalty area which is not visible, especially when there is so much ground outside the penalty area where the ball could be.

To the second point, stroke-and-distance is always an option, no matter where the ball is found (or not found).
 

salfordlad

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All of which is exactly why I'm surprised the word 'virtually' is in the rule. It's impossible to define. "It's most likely in there" is only a short leap to "it has to be in there" by process of elimination, in my mind at least. If the rule just said you had to be 'certain' it would be harsher on the golfer, but at least it would make sense.

I reiterate, the rule being worded as it is now, and based on the conversations I've heard like the one I mentioned, I wouldn't be surprised if you had an even split in the field where some are taking drops, and others are hitting provisionals and taking that instead. The only caveat that evens it out I would say is that dropping it behind the pond doesn't give you much to aim at, so it's probably a punch back to the fairway so you're playing your 4th shot from there either way.
The smart clubs manage this issue by careful alignment of penalty area edges and surrounding rough/fairway placement. The capacity to do this is one of the significant improvements of the 2019 Rules. The club that has dense vegetation in the general area bordering penalty areas is creating avoidable problems.
 

Foxholer

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Unless someone has witnessed it go in, I think it's almost impossible to be virtually certain that a ball has entered a penalty area which is not visible, especially when there is so much ground outside the penalty area where the ball could be.
...
The logic I us is more along the lines of 'could it be anywhere else', or 'must it be in the hazard'. Still not 100% definitive - only seeing it go into the hazard would satisfy that - but sufficient for my morality. That's why it's far better to have any reeds etc, that are around the edge, marked as part of a hazard. And it helps pace of play too!
 

clubchamp98

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And remember - to choose to use stroke and distance your ball doesn’t need to be unplayable (though in most circumstances S&D will be used because you decide that it is unplayable. In fact you can choose to take stroke and distance in any circumstance. No matter where on the course you are (there may be some exceptions I can’t think of off top of my head) you can choose to go to where you last hit the ball, and play from there. Plus the place you go to (from where you played your previous shot) can be closer to the flag..the only time the word ‘back‘ has relevance in context of S&D is in respect of ‘time’.

So for example you putt off the green from 3ft away and end up miles away or indeed in rough or a bunker, then you can choose to use S&D and putt it back on the green, 3ft from the hole.

[note…having posted the above I am doubting myself as to whether or not I can use S&D if doing so ends up with me putting the ball back to a point closer to hole than where it ended up]
Didn’t Phil Mickelson do just that on a green he putted off.?
He didn’t even wait for the ball to come to a stop.
 

rulie

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The 95% probability for "virtually certain" was purposely set as a high bar to avoid players gaining an advantage over stroke and distance when they don't find their ball. "Most likely", imo, would be 51% and not meet the standard.
95% means that you have made the correct determination 19 times out of 20.
When I'm in that situation of doubt as a referee and the player wants to take penalty area relief, I say that he could if he finds me the ball in the penalty area.
Everyone should respect the high standard that has been established in the Rules.
Perhaps the full definition of "known or virtually certain" should be read/posted. See it below, with my highlighting.

The standard for deciding what happened to a player’s ball – for example, whether the ball came to rest in a penalty area, whether it moved or what caused it to move.

Known or virtually certain means more than just possible or probable. It means that either:
  • There is conclusive evidence that the event in question happened to the player’s ball, such as when the player or other witnesses saw it happen, or
  • Although there is a very small degree of doubt, all reasonably available information shows that it is at least 95% likely that the event in question happened

“All reasonably available information” includes all information the player knows and all other information he or she can get with reasonable effort and without unreasonable delay.
 
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