Rules Guy: What do you do if your ball moves as you are preparing to address it?

Disappointed golfer

What do the rules say about a ball that moves just before you address it?

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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.

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, SC 

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!

Ball next to rake
Rules Guy: Can I move an object like a rake if it causes my ball to move?
By: Rules Guy

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

We were playing with the “lift, clean and place” local rule in effect. A player in my foursome was in the fairway and started to roll the ball with his clubhead before realizing that it’s lift, not roll. He proceeded to mark his ball and go through the procedure correctly. But had the player committed a violation by first touching the ball with his club? —Dudley Campbell, Scottsdale, Ariz.

There may be no erasers on golf pencils, but there’s a very handy one in the Rules of Golf. Dudley, say hello to Rule 14.5, aka the “Eraser” rule. (No, Rules Guy didn’t make up that nickname; it’s a real thing.)

This rule allows for correcting without penalty a mistake in dropping, placing, replacing or substituting a ball, as long as it’s done prior to the player making the next stroke. So, while it is in fact required to use your hand when placing a ball, in this instance, since the mistake was corrected, it falls under “no harm, no foul.”

Had it not been corrected, the sanction would have been one penalty stroke for replacing in a wrong way.

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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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