Rules Guy: I accidentally picked up my match-play partner’s ball. Now what?

hand placing ball

What do the rules say about accidentally picking up your match-play partner's ball?

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The Rules of Golf are tricky! Thankfully, we’ve got the guru. Our Rules Guy knows the book front to back. Got a question? He’s got all the answers.

In a senior match-play competition, my partner and I were each looking for our golf ball. I found one just as torrential rain started to come down. I shouted to get my partner’s attention, but he didn’t hear me. I picked up the ball and moved on. When I got to him, I realized he was still looking for his ball. He identified the one I’d picked up as his. As it had been a genuine mistake, I suggested replacing it where I’d found it but was told by the opposition that he was out of the hole. Was this the correct ruling? Does it matter if play had been halted due to the weather prior to my mistake? —Francisco Javier Sanchez-Garcia

Francisco Javier, there’s a lot to unpack here, yet not enough information to make a definitive ruling — but your question is a very good leaping-off point.

At a basic level, if the ball was simply lifted by you, not for identification, your partner gets one penalty stroke and the ball must be replaced, per Rule 9.4. In this instance, loss of hole is not the penalty and, no, the situation doesn’t change if play was suspended.

Going forward, consider yelling louder, getting your partner some hearing aids, marking the ball first, etc. etc. etc.

For more match-play guidance from our guru, read on …

Rules Guy: In a best-ball match, are both players penalized if search time expires for a lost ball?
By: Rules Guy

In a four-ball match, my partner hits the wrong golf ball. Our opponents claim we lose the hole. I say my partner is out of the hole, but I’m allowed to play my ball. What does Rules Guy say? —Jacob Danquart, Denmark

As it happens, Jacob, Rules Guy collects Danish Modern furniture and would have loved a question about Hans Wegner or Finn Juhl. (We know our rosewood from our teak.)

Anyway, RG agrees with you. In four-ball, when a player plays the wrong ball, the partner is never penalized — even if it was the partner’s ball, and even if the partner got some sort of help, such as seeing the roll or bounce.

The exception to Rule 23.8a(2) informs us that the offending player gets a loss-of-hole penalty, but the partner gets no penalty and can fight on for the side.

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