Rules Guy: My ball moved in the middle of my backswing. Now what?

Golfer on tee

What do the rules say about a ball that moves in the middle of your backswing?

Getty Images

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.

During a practice round, the ball moved while I was at the top of my backswing. I continued my swing and executed the intended punch shot, but in a tournament round would that be a penalty and, if so, what? —Preston Scott, Tallahassee, Fla.

First, the good news: When the ball moves after the backswing has begun and the stroke is completed, there is no penalty for playing a moving ball and you play the ball from wherever the stroke comes to rest. Thank Rule 9.1b for that.

The potential bad news/caveat: If it were your actions that caused the ball to move, you’re still potentially on the hook for one penalty stroke under Rule 9.4b.

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

My pulled approach shot plugged in a greenside bunker, high up its steep face and just under the lip. As the group examined my predicament, sand gave way, dislodging the ball, which then rolled to the base of the bunker. We agreed that I play it from there, as replacing it would have been next to impossible — but I’m waiting to enter my score until hearing from you.  —Johnny M. Provost, Myrtle Beach, S.C.

ball blocking ball on green
Rules Guy: Can my partner refuse to move a ball that’s in my way?
By: Rules Guy

When you say “examined,” does that mean someone caused the ball to move — either you or another player at your direction? Because, ay, there’s the rub.

If it is not known or virtually certain who or what caused the ball to move, then it would be treated as being moved by natural forces and playing the ball as it lay was correct.

If instead, someone caused the ball to move, it should have been replaced under either Rule 9.4 (you did it) or 9.6 (they did it).

If the ball doesn’t stay put, then you try once more. After that, per Rule 14.2e you find the nearest spot where it will stay at rest in the bunker and no nearer the hole.

So, if that’s the case, you played from a wrong place and get two penalty strokes in stroke play. Either way, don’t give us any lip!

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.

generic profile image