Memorable Encounters
with the Water Hazard Rule

Increase your own familiarity with Rule 26 by revisiting
these three famous incidents

March 25, 2009

By Wendy Uzelac, USGA

A watery grave, dunked, in the drink, or simply wet; no matter which slang term you choose, it means your golf ball has ended up within the margins of a water hazard. Generally an undesirable experience for the player involved, it's also a situation that has led to several memorable golf moments.

The Rules of Golf provide several options when your ball finds a water hazard. Several short animations available on the USGA Web site,, offer great explanations of the relief procedures for a ball that comes to rest in a water hazard (yellow stakes and/or lines) or in a lateral water hazard (red stakes and/or lines). Even the world's best players have dealt with Rule 26. Memorable examples from the PGA Tour and major championships include the following three incidents from which all golfers can learn.

During the first round of the 2005 Masters, Tiger Woods was on the back of the 13th green facing a downhill, 60-foot eagle putt. The slick green and lack of rough on the bank of Rae's Creek behind the hole deceived Woods. His putt rolled past the hole and into the creek. Woods' knowledge of his options under the water-hazard rule - in this case stroke and distance - came in handy as he replaced his ball on the green with a one-stroke penalty. Much wiser as to how that putt should be played the second time around, Woods stroked his fifth shot to tap-in range en route to a bogey 6 and an opening-round 74. Woods shook off his pedestrian first-round score and performed quite admirably over the next 54 holes to claim his fourth green jacket.

Another memorable water-hazard incident, one that highlights two other ways to proceed under Rule 26, occurred during the final round of the 1999 British Open at Carnoustie Golf Links in Scotland. Frenchman Jean Van de Velde needed only a 6 at the 72nd hole to claim the Claret Jug. Instead he enthralled millions of television viewers with one of the most famous meltdowns in golf history. Teeing off on the difficult par-4 "Home" hole, he hit an average drive, then decided to go for the green with his second shot rather than conservatively laying up short of Barry Burn, a water hazard that crosses in front of the green. That shot was pushed to the right and ricocheted off the grandstand and into a very bad lie in the tall rough in front of Barry Burn. His third shot was chunked into Barry Burn.

Van de Velde considered hitting the ball from its semi-submerged lie in the shallow, slow-moving stream, without penalty, as the rule allows. But after taking off his shoes and socks and rolling up his slacks to wade into the streambed, he ultimately opted to take relief with a one-stroke penalty, keeping the point where the ball last crossed the margin of the hazard between the hole and the spot on which the ball was dropped. After his drop and next stroke, Van de Velde's ball ended up in a bunker. He played his fifth shot from the sand converted his 6-footer for a triple-bogey 7 - still good enough to make it into a three-way playoff with American Justin Leonard and Scotsman Paul Lawrie, the eventual champion.

Finally, no discussion on water hazards can conclude without an account from one of the most famous holes in golf - the par-3 17th at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. During the 1999 Players Championship, Fred Couples' tee shot was short of the island green and in the water. Couples decided to use the "stroke and distance" option of the water-hazard rule and played again from within the teeing ground with a one-stroke penalty. His next shot amazingly found the hole for a rather unconventional par!

As one can see, a variety of options are available to golfers who hit their ball into a water hazard. By understanding these options under the Rules of Golf, golfers can make the best of an otherwise soggy situation.

Wendy Uzelac is Director, Rules Education Projects. If you have a question regarding the Rules of Golf, call (908) 234-2300, orclick hereto send your query via e-mail.


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