Playing with a club that has been damaged can result in a disqualification as Anthony Kim found out playing in the HSBC Champions in China last fall.
Walking down the seventh fairway in the third round, Kim accidentally hit a sprinkler head with his driver. He wasn’t sure it had been damaged and used it on the next tee.
Finding a rules official, Andy McFee (who has to be a relative of mine with a name like that) a few holes later, Kim found out he had played with an altered club and was disqualified.
“I was pretty shocked,” Kim told the media. “But you know, the rules are the rules and I have no problem with that.”
If the club had been damaged in the normal course of play—in making a practice swing or a stroke—Kim could have used it until the stipulated round was over. Furthermore, he could have repaired the damage, restoring it to its original condition, as long as he didn’t unduly delay play.
If a player happened to bend the shaft or break a club in a fit of anger, the club would be nonconforming and he could not replace it unless he started with fewer than 14 clubs. This is what happened to Ben Crenshaw in the 1987 Ryder Cup. He broke his putter tapping it on the ground and had to use other clubs to putt with on the back nine. Crenshaw lost 1 up to Eamonn Dacy as the U.S. suffered a 15-13 loss. A Crenshaw win would have left the teams tied.
I recall hearing how a player left a putt about an inch short. In disgust, he hit the head of the putter on his shoe and bent the neck. He went ahead and tapped in the short putt with the altered putter.. Oops! The result was a disqualification.
A player must take a non-conforming club out of his bag, too. The rules read that even if the club is not used, a player can be DQed. That happened to Kevin Stadler in Las Vegas in 2007 when the shaft on his wedge was bent, but wasn’t done in the normal course of play.
Adding lead tape or changing the weight portals on one of the adjustable drivers during a round would be considered changing the playing characteristics of a club and would result in a penalty.
One thing to remember, the rules say a club can not be altered in a stipulated round. Therefore, a player could repair a club or even switch clubs if a playoff was necessary.