Is a Plugged Ball Next to the Hole an Ace?
Does a plugged ball near the hole count as an ace? What are the golf rules for embedded balls? Twitter user @MickColetta1 caused a bit of a storm when he posted the below photo. Take a look and decide for yourself - is this an Ace?
Arguments for Why It Is NOT an Ace
The biggest argument for why this is not a hole-in-one comes directly from the USGA rule interpretations on the definition of 'Holed'. See Holed/1:
"Holed/1 – All of the Ball Must Be Below the Surface to Be Holed When Embedded in Side of Hole
When a ball is embedded in the side of the hole, and all of the ball is not below the surface of the putting green, the ball is not holed. This is the case even if the ball touches the flagstick."
Seems pretty clear doesn't it? Or does it. It's hard to tell form the photo if the ball is below the surface of the putting green. It does appear to be late in the day and the shadows are long. We cannot see a shadow on the putting green itself, but is it below the putting surface....?
Arguments for Why It Is an Ace
Let's start with common sense. Say your playing partner tells you this is not an ace. OK. Let me mark the ball, repair the damage to the green and replace my ball. Gravity does it's work and "YES - IT'S IN THE HOLE!!". Seems logical doesn't it? Of course, the gods of golf have made some rules that are not always logical.
So let's look at the golf rules. Rule 13.2C seems to be appropriate based on our view of the ball:
"c. Ball Resting Against Flagstick in Hole
If a player’s ball comes to rest against the flagstick left in the hole:
- If any part of the ball is in the hole below the surface of the putting green, the ball is treated as holed even if the entire ball is not below the surface.
So, in the image, it sure looks like the ball is touching the flagstick, so it shouldn't matter if the entire ball is below the putting surface. Of course, that directly contradicts the "Holed/1" interpretation above.
So what's the right answer? We don't know because we don't have perfect information. The picture just doesn't show us enough. Golf Magazine debated this issue and even got help from the Senior Director of the Rules of Golf for the USGA, Thomas Pagel. He stated that the Rule 13.2c takes precedent. The problem is that we cannot tell if the flagstick is what's preventing the ball from falling to the bottom of the hole, or the fact that it is plugged. So when this happens to you (and if it does, go buy a lottery ticket), here's your handy decision tree:
1. If the ball is plugged, but is not leaning against the flagstick and not fully below the putting surface.
THIS IS NOT AN ACE! (I have no idea how you are going to mark the ball or take your next shot, but that's the rule).
2. If the ball is plugged, is leaning against the flagstick, but is not fully submerged:
THIS IS NOT AN ACE!
3. If the ball is plugged, is not leaning against the flagstick, but is fully below the putting surface:
CONGRATS! THIS IS AN ACE
4. If the ball is not plugged and it is leaning against the flagstick, and is fully or partially submerged:
CONGRATS! THIS IS AN ACE