Why the rules can keep you from being a hazard to yourself and the course

Seung Yul Noh
How did Seung Yul Noh not know you are not allowed to play a shot off another putting green?
By Mark Aumann

Series: Golf Buzz

Published: Sunday, August 24, 2014 | 3:06 p.m.

The cardinal rule in golf is "play it where it lies," but there are significant exceptions to Rule 13-1 -- one being, you must take free relief when your ball is sitting on another putting green. 

That's what makes Seung Yul Noh's decision to take a big divot from a green during Thursday's opening round of The Barclays such a head-scratcher, because that's as much common sense as having any knowledge of Rule 25-3. It falls in the same category, according to co-vice chairman of the PGA rules committee, Bryan Jones, as not hitting from out of bounds or hitting off another person or their equipment. 

RULE 25-3: Noh penalized for hitting ball off wrong green

You shouldn't do those things, not just because they're illegal but because they're hazardous.

"These are great examples of where the Rules of Golf, often bashed for complexity and harshness are simple and full of common sense," Jones said. "Many courses have holes close to each other and balls often land on other putting greens. Imagine if players had the liberty of hacking away?

"The Putting Green has always been a special place under the Rules and this privilege is extended to Putting Greens throughout the course. Rule 25-3 provides and requires a player to drop (for free) off of a 'Wrong Putting Green,' although the player may stand on one to play a ball that lies off of it."

GROUND UNDER REPAIR: When you can take a free drop

With rules officials readily available, Jones said all a PGA Tour player has to do is raise his hand and someone will come over and offer a rules interpretation. The fact that Noh didn't do that, even though former PGA Tour player-turned-PGA Tour rules official Brad Fabel was fairly close, compounded the mistake.

"I have no doubt that if were closer to Noh and could clearly see the ball on the green, he would have intervened," Jones said. "Rules referees are trained to prevent infractions, if at all possible. It is another reason that golf is truly unique in competitive sport.

"The referee will try on behalf of all players to prevent 'crime,' sometimes he is simply not in position to do so."

HITTING THE WRONG BALL: What do you do if you wind up playing your partner's ball?

So what about players using a club other than a putter on the green they're playing to? Perfectly acceptable under the rules, according to Jones. If you feel using a hybrid or a wood to get some loft on the ball, or if the position of the flag requires a chip, you may do so without drawing the two-stroke penalty Noh incurred.

So be respectful of the course, as well as the rules. Know when you should "play it where it lies" and when you can, and should, take a drop.