Rules Guy: In a four-ball match, do you have to share a wrong-ball penalty with your partner?

golf balls

What do the rules say about hitting a wrong ball in a four-ball format?

John McAlley

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.

In a four-ball match, my partner hits the wrong golf ball. Our opponents claim we lose the hole. I say my partner is out of the hole, but I’m allowed to play my ball. What does Rules Guy say?
—Jacob Danquart, Denmark

As it happens, Jacob, Rules Guy collects Danish Modern furniture and would have loved a question about Hans Wegner or Finn Juhl. (We know our rosewood from our teak.)

Anyway, RG agrees with you. In four-ball, when a player plays the wrong ball, the partner is never penalized — even if it was the partner’s ball, and even if the partner got some sort of help, such as seeing the roll or bounce.

The exception to Rule 23.8a(2) informs us that the offending player gets a loss-of-hole penalty, but the partner gets no penalty and can fight on for the side.

Ball on green
Rules Guy: Is backstopping legal in four-ball match play?
By: Rules Guy

For more match-play guidance from our guru, read on …

In match play, my shot and my opponent’s land on the green. My opponent concedes my birdie putt, then putts my ball into the hole before attempting his putt to halve. Is this legal?
—Bill Dolbow,
West Palm Beach, Fla.

Golf, or at least its rules, can be a funny thing: Your opponent’s action is only legal if it wasn’t really putting. If he had merely been attempting to return your ball to you or get the ball out of the way and then the hole simply got in the way, he’s in the clear.

If instead he was performing some kind of trial run for his own putt, maybe hoping to glean information on, say, green speed or the break — i.e., practicing — he violated Rule 5.5(a), with the penalty being loss of hole in match play. Moral of the story: A gentle toss of the ball to your opponent is the safe way to go.

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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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