Rules Guy: How do you decide who putts first when two players are the same distance from the hole?

Golfers marking balls on green

How do you decide who putts first from the same distance?

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 the 2022 Genesis Scottish Open, Will Zalatoris’ ball ended atop Matt Fitzpatrick’s poker-chip ball marker—making it a touch farther away from the hole, given that you mark behind your ball. But what if the ball had stopped right in front of the marker, so that their balls had come to rest in the exact same place? Which player should putt first? My guess is a coin toss.
—Tomo Kirimoto, Cypress, Calif.

The odds of this happening are quite slim, Tomo, but then again Will and Matt proved never say never.

In any case, you answered your own question correctly. (Too much of that and I’m out of work.)

If the ball stopped in a position where both balls would be in the same spot, the order of play would likely end up a coin toss, or any other random method — unless the players can agree who’s going to play first.

Rule 6.4b tells us once the hole starts, if the balls are the same distance from the hole the ball played first is to be decided by agreement or random method. So random!

For more putting-green guidance from our guru, read on …

marking ball on green
Rules Guy: Can you refuse a playing partner’s request to leave your ball mark near their putting line?
By: Rules Guy

While standing over my ball when putting, I put the putter head on the ground on the far side of the ball, then slide it on the surface toward me into place. I think I started doing this to ensure I didn’t hit the ball when moving the putter into position. I was recently told my method is illegal, as I’m “testing the surface of the green,” which never occurred to me. Is this right?
— Mykel Lefkowitz,
Los Angeles, Calif.

Mykel, Mykel, Mykel — is it so hard not to hit the ball when placing the putter behind it? Is this rigmarole really necessary?

The game surely makes much tougher physical demands. But we digress. As long as you’re not deliberately testing the surface by rubbing it, which would violate Rule 13.1e, there’s no rule being broken.

Hence, cleaning off mud, for example, isn’t a breach but rubbing one’s hand on the grass to see if a putt is with the grain or against it is.

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

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.

Pro shop

Shop our selection of game-improvement gear

Explore GOLF’s Pro Shop
generic profile image