Rules Guy: I noticed a player pushing down on the grass behind their ball before hitting. Is this legal?

club behind ball

What do the rules say about pushing the grass down behind the ball at address?

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With all the rain we’ve had this year, the rough has been extremely hard to escape. I’ve noticed people basically flattening the grass behind their ball during their pre-shot routine. I am sure this is a penalty but don’t know which one, or what the penalty is. Yet this is okay to do on the tee box, yes? If so, why? —John Bowman, Westerville, Ohio

The teeing area is treated different under the rules because … well, it just is.

For starters, you’re allowed to tee the ball up there, and nowhere else, right? If you want to create some sort of irregularity of surface by, say, pressing down on the ground behind the tee, that’s kosher, too. So, let’s leave the tee box out of this because, once we’re past that, we’re playing the ball as it lies.

A player is allowed to lightly ground the club right in front of or behind the ball, which means just setting it down enough to support its weight. If that’s all a player’s doing, even if it creates an improvement to the lie there is no penalty — see Rule 8.1b. If, however, a player goes beyond that (say, from light tapping to mush-mush-mushing) and creates an improvement, under Rule 8.1(a) it’s the general penalty of two strokes in stroke play and loss of hole in match play.

Should your opponent or fellow competitor disagree with your penalty call (we’ll assume he or she hasn’t called the penalty on him or herself), the committee will need to step in and adjudicate.

For more guidance from our guru, read on …

golfers on tee
Rules Guy: How much are you allowed to touch the ball with your club on a tee box?
By: Rules Guy

For many years now, as part of my pre-shot routine for all strokes, I stand directly behind my ball and locate something beyond my desired landing spot for which to aim. I extend my club toward that distant point, slowly lowering it until I identify an area two inches to a foot directly in front of my ball. Then I lightly ground my club for a split-second to touch that spot—the purpose being to burn into my brain that exact point so I can readily identify it when I set up to take the stroke. I don’t press the club to the ground or repeatedly tap it, and in no way do I intend to (or actually) improve the conditions affecting my stroke. So, is this permitted? If so, is there a maximum allowable distance in front of the ball to do so? —Deb Rose, via email

Rules Guy’s neighbor once approvingly, and malaprop-ingly, referred to his contractor as “very particulous” — that is, both particular and meticulous.

Deb, without meaning to cast aspersions, you sound very particulous as well. (Also very deliberate, but we will give you the benefit of the doubt that all this prep work takes place double-time.)

All that said, so long as you don’t physically leave a mark and don’t let go of the club in the process, there’s nothing wrong with your, er, process.

Rule 10.2b(3) prohibits setting down an object or a similar action such as creating a mark; there’s no prohibition on picking a preexisting point and using your club in your hand to help yourself align to that point.

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