The R&A - Working for Golf

Zach Johnson The Open

Zach JohnsonSince the exciting conclusion of the 144th Open, The R&A has received several enquiries as to the ruling Zach Johnson received on the final hole of the four hole play-off and the player’s subsequent actions.

Initially Johnson was not sure if the damage on his line of putt was an old hole plug so he called the referee to seek clarification. With the referee’s assistance (who asked for a second opinion), it was established that it was the remnants of an old hole plug and Johnson was permitted to repair it under Rule 16-1c.

In addition to this, Johnson repaired some damage closer to the hole which, further to video review, proved to be a ball mark. The Rules allow a player to repair ball marks (Rule 16-1c) and in doing so, the line of putt may be touched (Rule 16-1a).

A ball mark (often referred to as a pitch mark) caused by the impact of a ball may be repaired more than once provided it is clearly identifiable as a ball mark. Ball marks on the putting green may be repaired whether or not the player’s ball lies on the putting green as this helps to prevent any long term damage to the putting surface if the ball mark can be repaired as soon as possible.

In repairing ball marks and/or old hole plugs, the restoration of the surface may include raising the turf (with a tee or pitch mark repairer) and then levelling off the ground with the putter. In Johnson’s case, all that was required was to simply tap down the uneven ground with the putter head.

There is no requirement under the Rules to inform or consult with another player or referee before repairing such damage. However, it is advisable to do so if there are any doubts over the status of the damage. Any other damage to the putting green, such as spike marks, must not be repaired if it might assist the player in the subsequent play of the hole.

Some viewers may also have spotted Johnson repairing some damage on the 15th green during his final round of the Championship.  As was the case on the 18th green of the play-off, Johnson was repairing ball mark damage on his line of putt, witnessed by his fellow-competitor and the referee.


  • The Rules allow the repair of ball marks and old hole plugs (Rule 16-1c) and the touching of the line of putt in so doing (Rule 16-1a) 
  • Consultation with another player/referee not required (but advisable if damage not clearly a ball mark or old hole plug) 
  • Repair may include raising the turf (with a tee or pitch mark repairer) and tapping down or just tapping down 
  • A ball mark may be repaired more than once (Decision 16-1c/1)