U.S. Open: New rules of golf curtail search for Dustin Johnson's lost ball

Rob Schumacher/USA TODAY Sports

U.S. Open: New rules of golf curtail search for Dustin Johnson's lost ball

USGA

U.S. Open: New rules of golf curtail search for Dustin Johnson's lost ball

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Dustin Johnson lost his ball Friday during Round 2 of the U.S. Open on the par-4, 334-yard, fourth hole. His drive missed to the right and landed in deep vegetation in a penalty area – across a red line – alongside the fairway, somewhere between the bunker and the beach.

A multi-person search was cut short in part due to the new rules of golf announced last year for implementation in 2019. Under the new rules, a ball is considered lost if it is not found within three minutes after the player or the caddie begin to search for it.

In the past, there was a five-minute time limit when it came to ball searches.

The clock ran out on Johnson Friday and he took a penalty and a drop. Even with the ball in the penalty area, he could have attempted to play it if he had found it.

Johnson was fortunate in that he had an option to drop in the fairway because of the way the shoreline and fairway curve on No. 4. The rules allow a player “back-on-the-line relief” when taking a penalty drop from a penalty area, so he was able to drop in the fairway on a line with the hole and the point where his ball crossed into the penalty area. Then hitting his third shot, he knocked his ball onto the green but missed his par putt.

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The search window was shortened to “emphasize the importance of prompt and continuous play,” according to the USGA.

Among the other rules changes relating to lost balls was a change that would no long penalize players or caddies for accidentally moving a ball during their search.

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The old rules penalized a player if they moved their ball while searching for it, such as in high grass or in a bush. If another player or outside agent, such as a spectator, moved the ball during a search, there was no penalty.

Players can now move sand or water; bend grass or branches; or even break grass or branches so long as it’s part of a reasonable effort to find or identify the ball. But a player still cannot act excessively by intentionally breaking branches or tearing up grass to improve the next shot – such actions result in a general penalty (loss of hole in match play; two-stroke penalty in stroke play).

If a ball is found buried in sand, the player must recreate the original lie as best as possible but may leave a small portion of the ball visible.

If a player finds a ball but can’t identify it as their ball, they can lift it to confirm it is their ball. But they first must mark the location; failure to mark the spot results in a one-stroke penalty. If the ball is too dirty to identify it, the player may clean it just enough to identify it. The ball must be returned to that original spot.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly characterized the situation and rules surrounding Johnson’s lost ball.

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