Rules Guy: Can a ball be marked without the player’s permission?

hand marking ball

What do you do if a playing partner marks your ball and replaces it without asking for permission?

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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 tee shot landed in the first cut of rough. The next player to hit followed my path, with his shot winding up about 18 inches behind mine. He got to the balls first, marked mine, hit his shot, returned my ball to the spot where it landed, then moved on. Is that correct protocol? —Martin Vette, Yuba City, Calif. 

While Rules Guy applauds your fellow player’s obvious desire to keep things moving along at a lively clip, his actions are potentially troublesome. (Also, “moving on” ahead of one’s playing partner can be both rude and dangerous.)

In stroke play, this Rapid Roy isn’t penalized, because under Rule 9.6 there’s no penalty for an outside influence moving a player’s ball at rest. In match play, however, it’s a one-stroke penalty under Rule 9.5 for a player moving and lifting the opponent’s ball without authority, instead of following the strictures of Rule 15.3b and requesting the player mark and move a ball that is interfering with his play.

It is worth noting that all of the above is true on the putting green as well, where there is one anomaly: Per Exception 2 Rule 9.5b, in match play the opponent gets no penalty if he marks and lifts your ball in the mistaken belief that it is his own ball. Dare I say, don’t touch anyone else’s ball without express consent.

For more marking guidance from our guru, read on …

Two golf balls on the putting green. Shallow DOF. The ball in the foreground is in focus
Rules Guy: My partner’s ball was in my way, but he refused to mark it. Is this legal?
By: Rules Guy

My friend drives wide right. Presuming it is lost, he hits a provisional, which also goes far right. We eventually found both balls in-bounds. Problem: the balls were identical, and neither was marked, so we couldn’t determine which was the original and which was the provisional. He was advised to play the one further from the hole as his first ball, then take a two-stroke penalty at the end of the hole. Was that correct? —Bart Calvanese, Denver, Colo.

Oh, what a tangled web we weave when we neglect to mark our golf balls differently.

Bart, when a player can’t distinguish between original and provisional, and both balls are found on the course, the player must choose one — either one — and treat it as the provisional, under Rule 18.3c(2).

Thus, your friend would have been taking his fourth stroke with the ball of his choosing. To anticipate the follow-up question, were one ball in bounds and the other OB, you’d play the in-bounds ball as the provisional.

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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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