Question: When playing at Tiffany Greens last weekend I hit my approach shot just off the left of the green on a par four. When looking for the ball I was unable to find it but there was a creek on the left side of the green. After a couple of minutes of looking for it, I just assumed bounced into the creek. I took a drop and finished out the hole. As I left the green and went towards the cart I found my ball. Am I able to finish the hole with my original ball at that point?

Answer: The short answer is no, once you drop a ball with the intent of putting it in play, the original ball can no longer be played, and this is true if the 3-minute search time has passed or not.  Additionally,  it sounds like the 3-minute search time was up so your original is now lost and cannot be played under any circumstance.

Long answer: Now if you dropped a ball and were not sure it was in the creek, then you find the original ball within 3 minutes of searching, it is your lucky day!  The original ball is still in play and there is no penalty to play it. 

But if you are sure (at least 95% sure) the original ball is in the creek and you drop a ball, it becomes the ball in play no matter what.  If you then happen to find your ball outside the creek, it is NOT your lucky day, that ball is no longer in play.  If you find your original ball in the creek, you still can’t play it, but it may change the reference point where you must drop the ball. Great Question!!

Todd Stice is our in-house Rules of Golf Expert. You can learn more about Todd here.