This is maybe an inadvertent giving yourself a “chance” of getting the ball out from heavy rough. You are not allowed to improve any of Conditions Affecting the Stroke. But what are they?
- the lie of the ball
- the area of intended stance
- the area of intended swing
- the line of play
- the relief area where the player will drop or place the ball
We all know that you are to “play the ball as it lies and the course as you find it”, indeed the titles of Rules 8 and 9 are “Course Played as it is Found” and “Ball Played as It Lies”. There is now no penalty if you move your ball accidentally in searching for, or identifying it, but you must recreate the lie (or estimated lie) if it is disturbed. You don’t even have a right to be able to see the ball (curiously, unless it was covered by sand in which case you may leave a small part of the ball visible).
If your lie (or other conditions affecting the stroke) has been improved you can avoid incurring the General Penalty by recreating your original lie and moving anything else back to their original position. Although this may not be possible if you have, for example, broken an attached branch in the area of your intended swing.
On the plus side, you can remove any loose impediment (they do not form part of your lie) – but be careful that your ball doesn’t move as a consequence.