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Is this golf ball embedded in the cup a hole-in-one? Here’s what we learned

The mind-bending photo above is spreading, once again, to every golfy corner of social media. The photo isn’t new — Twitter user @MickColetta1 posted it last year and immediately sparked an ace debate. But like any great debate, this one is timeless, transcending any singular incident.

Is a ball embedded in the side of the cup a hole in one?




Any golfer will have understandably dissonant feelings looking at this photo. On the one hand, we know what a holed shot looks like: the ball is resting in the bottom of the hole. On the other hand, this ball is very definitely in the confines of the cup — only grass and gravity are keeping it from settling happily at the bottom. It should go in. It belongs several inches further into the ground. So what’s the answer? Ace?

As I dived into the Rules of Golf, my confusion continued. What happens if the ball is embedded in the ground but also in contact with the flagstick, as show in the photo? Rule 13.2c seemed to address the situation, and reads as follows:

c. Ball Resting Against Flagstick in Hole

If a player’s ball comes to rest against the flagstick left in the hole:

If any part of the ball is in the hole below the surface of the putting green, the ball is treated as holed even if the entire ball is not below the surface.

Boom! There’s our answer, right? It’s touching the flagstick. Part of the ball is below the surface of the putting green. Ace, right? Not so fast.




Holed/1, part of the Definitions section of the Rules (far deeper within) provides a contradictory account:

Holed/1 – All of the Ball Must Be Below the Surface to Be Holed When Embedded in Side of Hole

When a ball is embedded in the side of the hole, and all of the ball is not below the surface of the putting green, the ball is not holed. This is the case even if the ball touches the flagstick.

Ah, rats. This seems to say completely the opposite! Unless, of course, the entire ball is “beneath the surface of the putting green.”

Golf.com enlisted the help of Thomas Pagel, the USGA’s Senior Director of the Rules of Golf, to sort through it. The answer, he said, is simpler than you might think.

“When dealing with a ball embedded in the side of the hole, we are only concerned with the entire ball being below the surface of the green, even if part of the ball is outside the circumference of the hole,” he wrote in an email. “If the entire ball is below the surface, the ball is holed. If the entire ball is not below the surface, the ball is not holed.”

He added that the “Definition of Holed” section of the rulebook takes precedence. Rule 13.2c, he said, exists for those times the ball is leaning against the flagstick but hasn’t fallen to the bottom of the cup — but isn’t embedded.

“But when dealing with a ball embedded in the side of the hole, this special case is not applicable because when the ball is embedded, generally speaking, the ball falling to the bottom of the hole is not dictated by the flagstick being there – it’s the ball being plugged into the putting green that is preventing it from falling in.”

So, to get back to the case at hand: Hole in one? Or not?




“It is really difficult to tell with the angle of the photo whether the ball is above or below the surface,” Pagel said. “The mystery continues!”

Thanks for nothing, USGA! (Just kidding — thanks, Thomas.) To help simplify things, here’s a handy guide to whether you’re celebrating or mourning what could have been.

1. Embedded, not leaning against the flagstick, not fully submerged:

NO ACE

2. Embedded, leaning against the flagstick, not fully submerged:

NO ACE

3. Embedded, not leaning against the flagstick, fully submerged:

YES ACE

4. Not embedded, leaning against the flagstick, fully or partially submerged:

YES ACE

So, Mr. @MickColetta1, we’re going to need some more camera angles so we can all sleep soundly knowing whether this was a 1 or a 2.



Article originally appeared on: Golf.com

9 thoughts on “Is this golf ball embedded in the cup a hole-in-one? Here’s what we learned

  1. blank

    I work at a golf course and the top edge of the cup is never cut low enough to allow for a ball to be totally embedded below the surface.

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      It’s a hole in 1….. beers on me, anyone ?
      Case closed. Let’s go …..

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    now add in flag and hole modifications due to covid 19, IE, foreign material in the cup to keep the ball from dropping all the way down.

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      Just to add to this, I was playing in a team tournament. I hit a high 6 iron right down the flagstick , (2nd shot , par 4) and the boom of hitting the bottom of the stick into the cup which had a covid donut in the cup to make it easy to pick the ball out of the top of the cup. The ball went off the bottom of the flagstick onto the foam donut and bounced off of the donut up in the air directly back on the same line flying into the front bunker less than 15 yards away. The donut kept the ball out. A victim of the Covid?

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    So if it is not a hole in one where is the ball placed to putt, and what happens when you remove the flag?

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    Ball is above surface not again the pole the picture show a shadow of the pole not pole an ball together so the ball was stop by the out side of hole one more swing

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    What if by pulling the flag stick out the ball drops? Is it an Ace? Another scenario… How would you finish the hole? where will you mark your ball? Are you allowed to repair the damaged green?

  6. blank

    Hole in one, scenario due to ” climate change”.

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    I say hole in one. Shadow of pin (above the hole) but no shadow of ball so must be below surface of hole not to cast a shadow. Proof positive-hole in one!

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