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It's the only free practice you are allowed, so why not take advantage?
When Tiger Woods famously lost his ball after driving at the first hole at Royal St George's in the 2003 Open, he faced a long walk back to the tee in order to hit another.

The fact that he had not played a provisional ball is perhaps understandable, as this was the first time he had ever lost a ball in competition as a professional golfer. But it seems puzzling that club golfers seem just as reluctant to play a provisional ball, as the pros.

If you think about it, in stroke play, it's just about the only legal chance you get to practise. And very often, when the poor swing that sent your drive clattering into trees or long grass is still fresh in both your mind and muscle memory, you can correct it almost immediately if you tee up another ball - how many times do you see someone boom a second drive down the fairway with the words: 'Why couldn't I do that the first time?'

Playing a provisional gives you an immediate opportunity to correct a swing fault, and can give you a psychological boost by allowing you to follow a poor shot with a good one.

And of course, if your ball should be lost, it saves you a long walk.

Don't abuse the idea and hit provisionals all over the place but if there is a likelihood of having to search for the original, it's a wise precaution.

One final point, remember that under the Rules you must clearly say that you are hitting a provisional ball - phrases such as 'I'll just hit another,' or 'time to reload' are not good enough and if you say something like that, as soon as you hit the second ball, it becomes the ball in play.

©    25 - AUGUST 2004

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