Rules School: What happens if I accidentally move my ball on the green?
Standing on Oakmont’s fifth green during the final round of the 2016 U.S. Open, Dustin Johnson’s ball moved ever so slightly as he approached it. Johnson called for a rules official and after discussing the matter he was not penalized. Then on the 12th hole, Johnson was told he might be penalized after the round. Eventually he was issued a one-stroke penalty, but it played no role in the outcome as Johnson claimed his first major title.
Nevertheless, the actions by the USGA were heavily scrutinized. Waffling on the ruling mid round was a bad look; so bad, that they implemented a local rule — commonly referred to as the “Dustin Johnson rule” — that did away with the penalty for accidentally moving your ball on the green.
In the updated Rules of Golf from 2019, they took it a step further and abolished the original rule altogether.
Scenario: You accidentally move your ball on the green.
Old rule: The player was assessed a one-stroke penalty if they caused their ball to move, accidental or not.
New rule: You are now protected from this penalty under Rule 13.1d which states, “there is no penalty if you, your opponent or another player in stroke play accidentally move your ball or ball marker on the putting green. You must replace your ball on its original spot (which if not known must be estimated) or place a ball marker to mark that original spot.”
The rule was changed because it can be difficult to determine what caused a ball to move on the putting green. This ruling eliminates the need to make those tough calls.
Use this rule next time you have an impossible lie in a bunker.
This new local rule can save you strokes (and time).
Under this new rule, you can no longer blame a spike mark for a missed putt.
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