Rules Guy: Can you clean your ball if it picks up debris from ground under repair?

Can you clean mud off your ball if you know it came from GUR?

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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.

I was recently caddying for a fellow club member at the club. His tee shot initially landed in ground under repair, picked up a ton of mud, then eventually settled in the fairway. We knew for certain that the mud came from the GUR. Is he thus allowed to clean his ball, or must he play it as it lies? — Mike DeAngelo, Miami, FL

Does your mudroom care where the mud on your shoes came from? Neither do the Rules of Golf, lest its waters be irredeemably muddied.

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By: Rules Guy

The player is allowed to clean the ball when it is lifted except in four specific cases (see Rule 14.1c), but you only get to take advantage of that penalty-free cleaning when you’re allowed to lift the ball. In the situation you’ve described, your player didn’t have the right to do so.

If he did lift the ball, he’d be in breach of Rule 9.4b, earning himself one penalty stroke (and replace the ball, please), but, hey — he’d get to clean it.

To stay penalty-free, the mud must stay put. Were he to attempt to clean the ball while it’s on the ground and managed to successfully do so without deliberately touching the ball — good luck with that! — he’d still potentially be guilty of a breach of Rule 8.1 by improving his conditions affecting the stroke.

Just play the ball as it lies and right after impact yell, “Mudball!” with one’s best Bubba Watson impression.

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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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