Everyday golfers can lower their scores without overhauling their swing or making drastic changes by simply eliminating penalty strokes. The two most common ways golfers receive penalty strokes are by hitting their ball into a water hazard and hitting out of bounds. The penalty for hitting the ball into a water hazard is adding a stroke to your score. The penalty for hitting the ball out of bounds is stroke and distance, which means in addition to adding a stroke to your score you must also hit next from the spot where the shot that went out of bounds originated. Whenever you suspect your ball is lost or went out of bounds you can announce that you want to hit what’s called a provisional ball. If your original shot is indeed lost or went out of bounds, the provisional ball becomes your ball in play after the addition of a penalty, and saves you the walk back to re-hit. There are specific rules for a provisional ball. Knowing how and when you can put one into play is important.
When water or out-of-bounds is in play, take extra care to avoid taking penalty strokes. Pull a club that won’t let you reach the trouble or take the longer, safer, more conservative route. You may not experience the thrill of carrying a water hazard or corner to set up a birdie or eagle. But you also will spare yourself the dejection of watching your ball splash or end up on the other side of the white (out-of-bounds) stakes. Other common ways to to incur penalty strokes involve what you can and can’t do in and around hazards, impediments and obstructions. You can download a free copy of the entire current Rules of Golf to your smartphone for study or reference out on the course. Knowledge of the rules and a little on-course strategy will help you avoid costly penalty strokes that can add up and really wreck your score.