Rules Guy: My distracted match-play partner accidentally picked up my ball. What now?

Golfer's hand picking up a ball

What do the rules say about accidentally picking up a ball in match play?

Getty Images

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 recent four-ball match at my club,John and Chris were playing against Brad and James. John putted while Brad was engrossed in a phone call, not paying attention. Brad saw John’s ball rolling and stopped it — he thought James had tossed him his own ball. What’s the ruling? —Dave DeWalle, Richmond, Va.

Call Rules Guy old-fashioned but calls on the course should be verboten. Regardless, oblivious Brad gets a loss of hole penalty for breaching Rule 11.2, which, in a four-ball match, means he’s out of the hole.

Depending on when and where the ball was stopped, if the act dis-advantaged John — because the ball was heading toward the hole and may have gone in, say, or because it was an extremely difficult putt that was going to end up with a decent result (see Rule 23.9)—James would also get the penalty and the side would lose the hole. They could then text each other their regrets.

golfers looking for ball
Rules Guy: In a best-ball match, are both players penalized if search time expires for a lost ball?
By: Rules Guy

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

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.

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

UNRL Golf DWR Track Jacket

The original UNRL Golf DWR Track Jacket delivers sophisticated style and versatility. This anorak jacket is fully packable, designed to protect you against wind, rain and sun. Set yourself apart from the rest.  DWR Finish: Protects against wind, rain and sun UPF 30+ sun protection Fully packable: Stows away in its own pocket Lightweight & breathable 4-way performance stretch Soft soundless fabric: No swooshing Anti-restriction: Full range of motion Zipper loop attaches easily to golf bag Adjustable drawcord at waist to eliminate distraction Secure extended drawcords Stretch ribbed cuffs Interior mesh ventilation Wrinkle release; great for travel
View Product
generic profile image