Rules Guy: Do I have to replace my ball in my playing partner’s fresh divot?

A golf ball in a divot on the sixteenth fairway during the Second Round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship at Yas Links Golf Course on January 21, 2022 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

What do the rules say about replacing a ball in a fresh divot after marking for a partner?

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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.

Upon reaching our drives, my playing partner and I found that our golf balls were touching and perfectly lined up toward the hole. My ball was in front, so I marked it. His approach produced a massive divot; to replace my ball in its original spot would have meant being in this newly created divot. I claimed I was entitled to a free drop, he said I wasn’t. Who was right? —Brick Rigden, Parkville, Mo.

In a word, neither.

Under Rule 14.2d, you were entitled to relief but not a drop.

When you lifted for interference, you were required to replace the ball … but when the lie of a ball to be replaced is altered, you must replace it in a specific way. Namely, by replacing it on the nearest spot with a lie most similar to the original lie that’s within one club-length of said spot, no nearer the hole and in the same area of the course.

(Your scenario, we will note, more commonly occurs in bunkers, but the process is the same.) We hope this info doesn’t hit you like a ton of bricks, Brick!

For more ball-placement guidance from our guru, read on …

A player hits his drive in the fairway. When he addresses his ball for his second shot, his foot is in a deep divot left by a previous group. He sees a clump of turf a few yards ahead, retrieves it and places it in the divot, then plays his shot. By improving his stance, has he broken the rules? —John Alario, Staten Island, N.Y.

Cruelly, he has. Replacing divots is proper etiquette but doing so in this instance is breaking one of golf’s most fundamental rules, namely, playing the course as you find it.

hand placing golf ball
Rules Guy: When it is legal to place the ball instead of dropping it?
By: Rules Guy

Rule 8.1a prohibits improving any condition affecting the stroke — here, the area of intended stance — by certain actions, one of which being altering the ground surface by replacing a divot in a divot hole.

He gets our sympathy as well as the general penalty of two strokes in stroke play and loss of hole in match play.

Need help unriddling the greens at your home course? Pick up a custom Green Book from Golf Logix.

Got a question about the Rules? Ask the Rules Guy! Send your queries, confusions and comments to We promise he won’t throw the book at you.

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