Hey, Rules Guy: When is it OK, and not OK, to mark a ball on the green?

October 19, 2017

Got a question about the Rules? Ask the Rules Guy—he won’t throw the book at you!

My ball stopped near the hole after a pitch shot. As I walked up to the green, another player chipped before I had a chance to mark, even though my ball was potentially in the path of his shot. Sure enough, his ball hit mine and stopped near the pin, while mine ricocheted away. Is this a penalty on me? On him? Just bad luck? It happened twice in one round! — STEVE LOVELLE, VIA E-MAIL

Steve, let’s bring your rules knowledge up to the level of your short game. (Two fine pitch shots in a round is at least one more than Rules Guy generally musters.) Under Rule 22-1, if you think your ball might assist someone else’s play, you have a right to mark it—but you must make that fact known to your opponent or fellow competitor before he plays. If you don’t, your ball is returned to where it was on the green prior to the collision and the other player’s ball stays where it is, with no penalties. However, if you did make clear before his shot that you wished to mark and were then ignored, the price for denying you your golfing rights is quite severe, per Decision 2/3 and Rule 3-4: loss of hole in match play and disqualification in stroke play.

My buddy’s ball was about two feet from the pin when my chip shot headed straight toward it. He quickly lifted his ball before the two collided, then replaced it. My chip rolled well past the pin. But isn’t it illegal to move your ball (by marking it or otherwise) once another player has hit his ball? — MARK BENTSEN, AUSTIN, TEXAS

Yes, dear readers, this is a special Rules Guy edition called “On Your Mark.” And yes, aptly named Mark, you are correct. According to Rule 16-1b, if a ball is in motion and another player’s ball is positioned such that it might influence the movement of the ball in motion, the thing to do is…nothing. The governing premise is that once a ball is in motion, it should take its natural course and nothing should be done to influence that course. Lifting a ball at rest that might influence a ball in motion incurs the general penalty, which loyal readers know is two strokes in stroke play and loss of hole in match play.

In a recent match-play event, my shot stopped a few feet from the pin. I was in the process of marking when my opponent, who was off the green, told me to “leave the ball alone.” He went on to say that, since we were engaged in match play, once I had played “he had control of my ball.” Is this really a thing? — DON STEWART, CHARLOTTE, N.C.

You’ll forgive me for asking, but was this a senior match-play event? Because the right to control an opponent’s ball in match play hasn’t been a feature of the rules since way back in 1984, and some old-timers who haven’t kept up with the rules still operate under this misconception. (They’re the same fine gentlemen who try to employ the stymie…and write letters to Rules Guy on a typewriter.) So, as noted earlier, you indeed have the right to mark your ball—and you certainly should if you feel it might assist with your opponent’s play. Just let him know. To be safe, you might want to speak a bit louder than usual.


Of course you do! Whatever it may be, send yours to rulesguy@golf.com and the question may be answered in an upcoming issue of GOLF. Until then, play by the Rules!