We all hate it when we can’t find our ball, or when we do find it – just out of bounds. When your ball goes out of bounds or is lost outside a water hazard, Rule 27-1 requires you to return to the spot from which the original ball was last played, and under penalty of one stroke, put another ball into play. Since this could be more than 200 yards back, it takes time to go back, hit another ball and return. To save time, Rule 27-2 allows you to play a Provisional Ball when the ball might be OB or lost outside a water hazard. But there are some requirements you must meet to use this Rule: You must play the provisional before going forward to search. You must declare that it is a provisional to your opponent, marker or fellow-competitor before playing it. Be specific; say, “This is a provisional,” not “I’d better hit another.” You may NOT hit a provisional if the ONLY place the ball could be lost is in a water hazard. If you violate these restrictions, the ball is not a provisional. It becomes your ball in play and the original may not be played. The provisional becomes your ball in play when: The original is out of bounds; You have searched for five minutes without finding the original; You play the provisional from a place where the original is likely to be or somewhere nearer the hole than that. The provisional must be abandoned when: You find the original ball in-bounds inside five minutes; You determine that the original is in a water hazard. If you find your original ball, you must abandon the provisional ball, even if you decide to deem your original ball unplayable. You cannot use the provisional ball even if you decide to proceed under Rule 28a, the stroke and distance option of the unplayable ball Rule. Many golfers think they cannot hit a provisional if their original ball might be in a water hazard. But they may play a provisional ball in such circumstances as long as their original might instead be lost nearby, outside of the water hazard. When you get to the area, if you determine your original is in the hazard, you must abandon the provisional and use the water-hazard rule (Rule 26) for any relief. Also, if you didn’t know an area was a water hazard, you would not be penalized for hitting the provisional; once you determine this, you simply abandon the provisional and continue with the original or take relief under the water-hazard rule.