Question: - Can a player verbally declare the ball lost?
(This is one the R&A Top 10 most frequently asked questions. It appeared on this website a few years ago but it is worth repeating).
Answer: - NO.
A player can not render a ball lost solely by declaration. A ball can only be considered lost by the action a player takes. It is a lost ball if :-
a) It is not found within five minutes from the start of the search.
b) The player has made a stroke at a substitute ball.
c) The player has made a stroke at a provisional ball from the place where the original ball is likely to be lost or from a point nearer the hole than that place
d) The player has dropped a ball under rule 27-1
Example: - If whilst searching for a ball, the player starts to back towards the tee and his ball is then found (within 5 minutes), can he play the ball or by walking back to the tee or has he declared it lost.
As a ball is only lost by the action of a player, not a declaration, the player is fully entitled to return and play the ball.
If a player stands on the tee and states that the ball is lost and it is subsequently found, before any action above on a) to d), the ball is in play and must be played. As stated above a ball only becomes lost by player's actions not by the player's statement.