Rules Guy: If the line on my ball gets smudged, can I swap in a new ball mid-hole?

line on golf ball

What do the rules say about replacing ball when a mark you've drawn gets smudged?

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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’ve always drawn a line on my ball to help with putting. If a shot smears that line, is it considered a damaged ball that I can replace it immediately or must I wait until I’ve finished the hole?
—Don Kent, Anthem, Ariz.

Don, your reputation would also be smeared if you tried to get away with substitute a ball due to such smudging, which under Rule 4.2 does not give you the right to do so.

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

Man on green
Rules Guy: Is it legal to use my putter to mark my ball?
By: Rules Guy

In the middle of our season-ending amateur tournament, it was brought to my attention that my teeing technique may be in violation of the rules. When placing my peg in the ground, I put my right foot behind the ball to help me set up the ball’s alignment-aid line on my intended line. I step straight back, double-check, repeat the process if a fix is needed, and then take my shot. Am I a lawbreaker or in the clear? —Scott Higginbotham, via email

If you’re just standing behind the ball and using your shoe to check the ball’s alignment, Scott, that’s okay.

If instead you’re creating some kind of mark on the ground that’s helping you align the ball and/or take your stance, you’re violating Rule 10.2b(3) — the upshot of which is that players are responsible for aligning themselves, and the penalty for which is the general penalty: two strokes in stroke play and loss of hole in match play. That’s almost as bad as having two left feet.

Need help unriddling the greens at your home course? Pick up a custom Green Book from 8 AM Golf affiliate 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.

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