Rules in Focus - Rule 18-2b – The Exception

RulesMany will be aware of the new Exception to Rule 18-2b which came into effect on 1st January 2012, however some confusion still remains around the practical implementation of this Rule and the Exception. 

Rule 18-2b states that “if a player’s ball in play moves after he has addressed it (other than as a result of a stroke), the player is deemed to have moved the ball and incurs a penalty of one stroke.”  This part of the Rule did not essentially change.

What was added was the Exception to Rule 18-2b that exonerates a player from penalty if his ball moves after it has been addressed when “it is known or virtually certain that the player did not cause his ball to move.” For example, if a player has addressed his ball but it then moves due to a very strong gust of wind, there is no penalty and the ball is played from its new position. 

It is worth noting that a player is considered to have “addressed the ball” when he has grounded his club immediately behind (or in front of) the ball in a position where it would be customary for him to ground the club prior to making a particular stroke.  For more information on addressing the ball, click here.

It is important to note the use of the words “virtually certain” within the Exception to Rule 18-2b.  The use of this term means that when all readily available information is considered, if there is compelling and inescapable evidence that something (other than the player) caused the ball to move, then, and only then, will the player be exempt from penalty.  Where such evidence does not exist, then there cannot be virtual certainty and the player is subject to a penalty of one stroke and he must replace the ball on the spot from which he caused it to move. 


When determining if the Exception to Rule 18-2b should apply, a referee or the Committee in charge, should ask the player:

1. Had the player addressed the ball? 

2. What happened - i.e. where was the ball, where is it now, at what point after addressing the ball did it move?

3. What else could have caused the ball to move?

As part of the fact gathering process, it may be worthwhile asking the player to demonstrate what he was doing, where he was standing, etc. prior to the ball moving. 

If the player suggests, for example, that the wind caused the ball to move, the referee should consider if there was a strong gust of wind at the particular moment the ball moved.   Just because the conditions are windy does not mean the player will automatically escape penalty.  However, if there was a sudden stronger gust of wind at the very moment the ball moved then that may be sufficient evidence to say that it is “virtually certain” that the player did not cause the ball to move. 

A case in point occurred during the second round of the 2009 US Masters.  Padraig Harrington’s ball moved after he had addressed it when a sudden gust of wind blew over the 15th green.   Although it was evident that Harrington had done nothing to cause the ball to move and it was down to the wind, because he had addressed the ball he was judged to have moved it.  This happened before the new Exception to Rule 18-2b was introduced so Harrington was penalised one stroke and was required to replace the ball.  

Now, if the same were to happen, as it was virtually certain that a strong gust of wind caused the ball to move, the Exception to Rule 18-2b would apply.  The player would incur no penalty and would play the ball from its new position.

Click here to see David Rickman (The R&A Executive Director – Rules & Equipment Standards and Thomas Pagel (USGA, Senior Director, Rules of Golf and Amateur Status) discuss the Exception to Rule 18-2b.

RulesWhile Rule 18-2b considers the player has addressed the ball, if a player has not addressed the ball, the player can still be in breach of the Rules if he causes the ball to move (Rule 18-2a).  For example, if a player moves loose impediments near the ball, or takes several practice swings close to the ball and the ball moves as a result, the player would be penalised one stroke and he must replace the ball.

A good example of this occurred at the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth in May 2012.  Graeme McDowell caused his ball to move when he touched some loose impediments lying near his ball that had found the bushes during play of the 18th hole.  He did not replace his ball as required by Rule 18-2a and so he incurred a two stroke penalty for a general breach of Rule 18.