The unplayable lie rule, a woman golfer’s best friend

Men rarely find reason to use the unplayable lie rule (updated here with the 2019 Rules of Golf). Here’s why and how women should.

image of golf ball in a tr

Guys disdain Rule 19, the unplayable lie rule (now, officially, the “unplayable ball” rule). Often that’s because they don’t know the options, as Jordan Spieth so memorably did in the final round of the 2017 British Open. Sometimes it’s because they’re strong enough to extricate themselves from deep rough, gorse, heather and other unpleasantness. Most of the time, though, their fragile egos won’t allow them to admit that a lie is, indeed, unplayable.

Women, however, do not have a male ego to protect. And so we will eagerly follow the steps to an unplayable lie if it means we do not have to crawl under that bush and attempt a shot that will likely result in the waste of two or three more.


The first step, of course, is to declare the unplayable lie. This is generally preceded by some profanity. “Oh, s—.” Or, “I can’t do a f—— thing with this.” And then, recognizing that we are not in a penalty area and so cannot take that kind of relief, “I’m taking an unplayable lie.”

Thus, we are agreeing to take a one-shot penalty to extricate our golf ball from its misery and put it in a better place.

The second step, then, is to determine the better place. Fairway would be nice, of course, but you don’t get wishes from your fairy godmother. There are only three options once we have decided to take the penalty.


  1. If you can see immediately that you have hit into a place where you don’t even want to go, remember, a golfer can always take stroke and distance, replaying a shot with a one-stroke penalty. Just put another ball down where you hit the last one and try the shot again. (Rule 19.2 (a) Stroke-and-Distance Relief) This used to be the one to choose if your approach shot buried itself in a deep pot bunker, but the new rules give us another option we’ll get to in No. 3.
  2. Pull out your driver or whatever is the longest club in your bag, measure two club lengths from wherever the ball lies, in any direction you choose that is no closer to the hole, and put down a tee to designate the relief area. Then drop the ball anywhere inside the relief area and play from there with a one-stroke penalty. This tends to help when your ball is up against a tree or in a bush. (Rule 19.2 (c) Lateral Relief)
  3. Finally there is the little-known, much-misunderstood and seldom practical option that Spieth used on the 13th hole of the British Open. Creating an imaginary line from the hole to the spot where the ball lies, you may go back on that line as far as you like to choose your spot to drop (within one club length of the line), with a one-stroke penalty. When would you use this one? Say you’ve hit your approach shot into a row of bushes right of the green, and farther right of the bushes is a clearing or maybe even the next tee where you could drop and have a clear shot over the bushes to the green. Or, you’ve hit into that deep pot bunker: In exchange for a two-stroke penalty, you may now remove your ball from the bunker and take it back on the imaginary line between the hole and where your ball was, drop and play from there. (Rule 19.2 (b) Back-on-the-line Relief)

At that 2017 British Open, Spieth went all the way back to the driving range to ensure that he would have a flat, smooth lie when he dropped. The average woman player would not find much use for Option 3 if it makes for a much longer shot; however, consider whether it beats Nos. 1 and 2 in some cases.

Knowing the unplayable lie rule could make the difference between a bogey and a snowbitch.

Comment With Facebook
User Review
4.14 (7 votes)