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Our Experts Explain: Playing With a Damaged Club February 24, 2016 | FAR HILLS, N.J. By Joe Foley, USGA

If a club is damaged, the player must be sure it conforms with the Rules before using it again during their following round. (USGA/John Mummert)

The application of Rule 4-3c is not often seen in competition, but it was on full display during the PGA Tour’s Northern Trust Open at Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, Calif., in February. Brendon de Jonge was penalized four strokes after it was discovered that he had started his second round with a non-conforming club he had damaged in anger during the previous round.

Typically, when a player incurs a penalty under Rule 4-3, it involves the failure to follow a procedure for damage made to a club during the round. The Rules are generous to those who damage a club during the round in the normal course of play (e.g., during a stroke), allowing players to use, repair or replace that club under Rule 4-3a. When a player damages a club other than in the normal course of play (e.g., throwing a club), he or she is permitted to carry the club but, according to Rule 4-3b, cannot use it again during the round if its playing characteristics have changed.

The most common breach of Rule 4-3 involves a player continuing to use a club that has been damaged other than in the normal course of play – a breach of Rule 4-3b. Under these circumstances, the penalty is disqualification. In de Jonge’s case, the club was damaged other than in the normal course of play on the last hole of the first round, but on merit or luck, was not used again.

de Jonge’s fortune took a turn for the worse the following day. He failed to remove the club that was damaged prior to the second round, bringing Rule 4-3c into the equation. Starting a round with a club that was damaged in any way is not necessarily a breach of Rule 4-3c, however, the damaged club must conform with the Rules. Unfortunately, it did not, leaving de Jonge subject to penalty for carrying a non-conforming club. The Committee applied the maximum adjustment penalty of four strokes for the two holes in which the non-conforming club was carried.

All in all, de Jonge avoided disqualification by not using the damaged club at the end of his previous round, but still suffered an adjustment penalty for carrying the damaged, non-conforming club at the beginning of the second round.

Joe Foley is a manager of Rules outreach and programming for the USGA. Email him at

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