Woody Austin missed the cut at the PGA Championship at Oak Hill by one stroke because he inadvertently left a hybrid club in his bag. Austin had considered replacing his 3-iron with the hybrid, and discovered the extra club when he removed the rain cover from his bag on his fourth hole of the day. He was penalized four strokes under Rule 4-4 for carrying more than fourteen clubs (two strokes per hole up to a maximum of four). In match play, the penalty is one hole for each hole the extra club was carried, up to a maximum of two holes.
Prior to 1938, there was no limit on the number of clubs, and some players carried two dozen or more. It is not certain how the USGA arrived at the 14-club limit, but no doubt caddies must have been happy with the new rule. If one of your playing partners accidentally puts one of his clubs in your bag, you are not penalized if you don’t use the club. Similarly, there is no penalty if you find a lost club on the course, put in your bag, and turn it in to the pro shop at the end of your round, as long as you don’t use it. However, you cannot escape the penalty if, at the start of your round, you place an extra club on the floor of your golf cart and declare it out of play.
If you start a round with less than fourteen clubs, you are permitted to add a club (or clubs) during the round, provided that this does not unduly delay play and you do not add a club that was selected for use by anyone else on the course. If you start with fourteen clubs and lose a club during a round, you may not replace the club. You may, however, replace a club that becomes damaged in the normal course of play if this does not unduly delay play. (Rule 4-3) A club damaged by throwing it in anger, slamming it into a bag, or intentionally striking the ground or a tree (other than during a stroke or practice swing) is not considered to be damaged in the normal course of play (even if temper tantrums are the norm for the player) and may not be replaced. So, when Charl Schwartzel’s 6-iron shattered when he slammed it into the ground in disgust during the first round of the British Open at Muirfield, he could not replace it.
If, however, he had started the round with only thirteen clubs, he could have added another 6-iron. A separate rule (4-2) prohibits a player from purposely changing the playing characteristics of a club during a round, or applying a foreign substance to the club face for the purpose of influencing the movement of the ball. While it is permissible to add lead tape to a clubhead or shaft before the start of a round, such tape may not be added or removed during a round. If you have an adjustable driver, you may not adjust the club during the round.
Jack Ross completed an intensive PGA/USGA rules workshop and has officiated at state amateur competitions. Rules inquiries may be addressed to email@example.com.