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Rules 101 - Uh Oh! My ball moved...
June 21, 2011
By Ryan Farb, PGA
            At the end of the last Rules 101 article I said I would go over Rule 3-3, Doubt as to Procedure. I have found, however, that there is a much more important and more frequent Rule issue to be discussed. What happens when my ball moves on the putting green?
            For as much coverage as this issue has received in recent months, it is really a fairly simple issue…if broken down properly. Any time the Rule book needs to come out it is important to identify a few things about the situation: 1) What is the form of play? 2) Who is involved? 3) Where did the incident occur? 4) What were the player’s intentions? And 5) What happened afterward? Today I’m going to look at what happens when a ball is moved in 1) Stroke Play 2) By the player, partner, caddie or equipment on 3) the putting green.
            The specific Rule for this situation is 18-2 and the first thing to note is that there are seven circumstances where players can accidentally move their ball and not get a penalty. These circumstances fall under the 4th category above – what was the player’s intention?  On the putting green only six of the seven apply: There is no penalty if you accidentally move your ball if you are repairing a hole plug or ball mark, measuring (to see who is away), lifting a ball under a Rule, placing or replacing a ball under a Rule, removing a loose impediment or removing a movable obstruction.
            So if you’re replacing the ball and in the process of removing the quarter you used as a ball marker you accidentally push your ball forward, there is no penalty. On the other hand, if you pick the ball marker up and accidentally drop the quarter on the ball which then moves, there is a one stroke penalty for moving your ball at rest and you must replace the ball to the original spot (think about Padraig Harrington). This seems to be where a lot of the controversy over this Rule lies. What is the difference between the two situations?
            In the first situation, the movement of the ball is directly attributable to the act of replacing the ball and removing the object marking the original spot. In Harrington’s situation, the coin moved the golf ball in an act completely separate from replacing the golf ball and removing the marker. As far as the Rules are concerned, the quarter falling on the ball is the same as accidentally kicking the ball.
            The bottom line on this Rule is that if you, your partner, your caddie or your equipment move your ball on the putting green in any way other than the 6 exceptions mentioned, there is a one stroke penalty and the ball must be replaced. If you fail to replace the ball and play it from where it lays then the penalty is two strokes for playing from a wrong place (Rule 20-7).
            This Rule can be a lot more complicated and if you think you’ve run into a situation that can’t be simplified please feel free to email me at and I’ll be happy to discuss it with you.