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I found my "lost ball" in the cup - but after hitting second ball; which counts?

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Question: I found my "lost ball" in the cup - but after hitting second ball; which counts?
Answer: Here's the scenario: You play a stroke into a green; maybe it's a blind green, but at any rate, you can't see your ball come to rest. When you get up to the green, you can't find your ball anywhere. You search, but eventually are forced to take the lost-ball penalty of stroke-plus-distance.

So you put the second ball into play, and when you hole out with the second ball - lo and behold - there's your first ball in the bottom of the cup. What is the ruling? Does your first ball - a hole-out - count, or does your second ball?

If your first ball counts, you might have just scored a hole in one, or perhaps even a double-eagle. If your second ball counts, you are likely bogeying, at best.

The answer is clear: The first ball (the one that was holed-out) counts. The very first rule in the Rules of Golf says this:

The Game of Golf consists of playing a ball with a club from the teeing ground into the hole by a stroke or successive strokes in accordance with the Rules.

"Into the hole" is the part we're most concerned with; the very first rule in the rulebook says that the point of the game is to get the ball into the hole. Once you've done that, your play of that hole is considered finished. You've completed play of a hole as soon as your ball finds the cup.

So erroneously playing a second ball, assessing the stroke-and-distance penalty, is superceded by the fact that your play of the hole was complete as soon as your first ball found the cup.

This ruling is specifically addressed in Decision 1-1/2 of the Rules of Golf, where the USGA answers the question thusly: "The score with the original ball counts. The play of the hole was completed when the player holed that ball."

Important: This applies only to balls that are holed. If you lose a ball and put a second ball into play, only to discover your first ball in the deep rough (or anywhere other than in the hole), the provisions of Rule 27 apply. On the About.com Golf Rules Forum, ruleshistorian explained, "Once the first ball is lost according to the definition of 'lost ball' you cannot play it if you find it afterwards."

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