Your New Best Friend: The Stroke & Distance Rule

By: Marcela Smith - Jan 17, 2024

When I was asked to write an article about my favorite rule in golf, I almost leapt with joy. I know, it sounds strange to think that anyone could get that excited about the Rules of Golf, but I was thrilled to be able to share something that is guaranteed to shave strokes off your game if you’re a higher handicap player (like me).

One of the best kept secrets in the Rules of Golf is Rule 18.1, which basically gives you the opportunity to play any shot you want over again. Don’t get too excited, it’s not free, like a mulligan, but it is a way to fully play under the Rules of Golf and get yourself out of a sticky situation by what we like to call “taking your medicine.”

Stroke-and-distance can be found under a few different rules as both an option at the player’s discretion and as a requirement. As you likely know, if you hit your ball out-of-bounds, you must go back to the location of your last shot under 18.2. The same requirement applies if you cannot find your ball after searching for it for 3 minutes. Both of these situations will cost you a one-stroke penalty.

Now, the hidden gem here is that if your ball is anywhere on the course and you’re not feeling inspired to hit it as it lies, you can use this stroke-and-distance rule to hit again from the last place you played. But, this will also cost you a one-stroke penalty.

When I said “anywhere” I really meant it! You can do this if your ball is in a bunker, in a penalty area (a.k.a. a water hazard), in a bush, or even sitting on the fairway.

During my golf rules clinics, I hear the gasps of disbelief from the players I’m teaching. They cannot believe that they can take their ball out of the bunker under this rule and essentially try it again for just a one stroke penalty.

Now, if you’re a lower handicap player you may very well love hitting bunker shots, side hill lies or muscling the ball out of thick rough. But many of us who aren’t as confident would certainly rather take that one stroke penalty and try it again, rather than whacking at a ball up against a lip of a bunker that we have no idea how to hit!

Here are some situations when you may want to use my favorite rule:

  • “Fried egg” lies in a bunker (when the golf ball is buried almost completely in the sand)
  • When your ball is up against the lip of a bunker
  • When your ball is up against a tree and the other options of lateral relief and back-on-the-line relief don’t leave you with nice angles in to the hole
  • When your ball is in a bush and it would be tough to use other unplayable lie options
  • When you’re just off the green and you accidentally hit your chip shot thin, and it rolls into the water

Full disclosure here, I think I’ve been in every single one of those issues at some point during my 16 years of playing golf. I’m a very average player who doesn’t have the skills to hit some of those awful lies, so I’ve learned that using stroke-and-distance is a great way to take back control of my round after a bad shot.

And the best part is you don’t even have to retrieve your ball first. Just tell another player that you’re playing under stroke-and-distance and grab a fresh ball from your bag. You can thank me later!

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