How long should you look for a lost golf ball?
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How long should you look for a lost golf ball?

Credit: Getty Images
Credit: Getty Images

So, you dropped your right shoulder a little too much through impact and sliced it in the trees on the right.

You’re playing well, though, and it’s the 17th hole, and you’re looking to take that $20 you lost last week to your playing partner...but only if you can find this ball.


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This is generally when people make excuses for themselves that looking for this particular ball for 10 minutes is OK because they’re a special exception to the rule all of a sudden. In your mother’s house, you’re probably special. In the trees on 17, you’re just keeping everyone behind you from finishing at a reasonable pace. And no, just because you’re playing in a local league tournament or club tourney you’re entitled to extra time. It simply doesn’t.

So, how long is too long looking for this lost ball? That depends.

Generally if you’ve watched the ball intently you’ll find it pretty quickly and move along just fine. However, one of the biggest mistakes most people make off the tee when they snap-hook or banana-slice it is they get upset and slam a club into the ground or look up to the golf gods to smite them in anger. This is probably because this is what we see the pros do. They don’t have to watch the ball. When Jordan Spieth wipes one, there are three marshals and hundreds of fans awaiting his arrival to show him where his wayward tee shot came to rest.

When you hit a bad one, watch the damn ball, then smite the golf gods. That’s the proper order. If you hit the ball, it’s your responsibility to know where it ended up. Watch it as far as you can keep eyes on it and then pick out a specific place to start your search from where you last had sight of it. If you’re playing with someone who is really struggling off the tee that day, maybe make a more concerted effort to watch their tee shots, too.

The worst possible scenario if you can’t find it quickly is that all four members of a foursome are gathered in the woods rooting around for your ball. That’s because if all four members of your foursome are in the woods, NO ONE CAN HIT THEIR OWN SHOT. When someone in your group hits a ball that must be searched for, three of the four people can be looking for the ball at a time. But the other members of your group helping you need to be rotating out of the search party to hit their shots in turn so you’re not holding the course up.

So, the answer to the question: How long should you look for your lost ball?

The USGA says 5 minutes is the maximum amount of time allowed in competitive play. However, in a casual round, the amount of time you should spend looking for your ball is equal to the amount of time it takes the other players to play their shots. Whether that’s 2 or 5 minutes, these hold-ups compound behind you and ruin a lot of golfers’ days on the course.

Brad Powers is a contributor at Golf News Net and an the founder of Hozl, a golf instruction company based in Austin, Texas, that offers a personal swing coach at an affordable price. 

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