Rules Guy: Can I use debris on the green as a backstop when I’m putting?

Is it permissible to use debris on the green as a backstop when you're putting, or do you have to clear your line?

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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 playing a match the other day and had a slick downhill putt to win a hole. If the putt doesn’t hit the hole, it will roll off the green. Wind had deposited some debris — leaves and sticks — near the hole, which I decided to keep in place, since they might slow the ball down in the event my putt missed. As my putt rolled toward the cup, it became apparent that it would indeed miss. My opponent rushed in to clear the debris, and sure enough my ball rolled back into the fairway. I don’t believe I broke a rule, as I didn’t place the items there. Did my opponent?
—Daryle Peterson, Pompton Plains, N.J. 

It’s like Oscar Madison and Felix Unger had a golf match! (Google it, kids.)

Two golfers talk on the golf course.
Rules Guy: Did this match-play agreement with my opponent disqualify both of us?
By: Rules Guy

You, Oscar/Daryle, are indeed in the clear, since a player is entitled to play the course as he finds it. Yes, even if he’s leaving loose impediments in place to act as a potential backstop. Meanwhile, Felix has breached Rule 11.3 — you can’t take action to deliberately affect what’s happening with a ball once it’s in motion. The penalty? Loss of hole … and 40 lashes with a feather duster!

Read on for another match play-related ruling …

In four-ball match play, are you allowed to deliberately use your partner’s ball as a backstop? It seems wrong, but I can’t seem to find the prohibition against it. —David Sainsbury, via email

That’s because there isn’t a problem in match play, where the players are free to make an agreement along these lines.

That said, if one’s opponents request that a ball on the putting green be marked because they think failure to do so would help your team, the ball must be lifted. Any agreements made on this front in stroke play would result in the general penalty once a stroke is made with that ball in place.

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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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