This edition’s Reader’s Rules Request comes from Terry Mills of Malaga, Spain. Terry wrote in to ask, “I often play golf in the UK and Spain and I’ve noticed this always causes some confusion when we discuss the golf we’ve watched on TV. You see players replacing their ball on the putting green but they do not remove the ball-marker and then the player goes back to touch and rotate the ball to align it. Is this allowed? I thought this would be a penalty situation?”
Answer: Rule 20-4 is applicable in this situation. If the player’s ball in play has been lifted, it is again in play when dropped or placed. Therefore, on the putting green, the ball is in play as soon as it is replaced on the ground, even if the ball-marker is still in position.
It is at this point that the player must be careful as the ball is now back in play. If the player carelessly caused the ball to move, the penalty under Rule 18-2 would be applied. The fact that the ball-marker is on the ground marking the ball’s position does not exempt the player from the penalty.
However, while the ball is in play when it replaced with the ball-marker still on the ground, the position of the ball is also still effectively marked. Therefore, if the player wished to touch, lift or rotate the ball, the player can do so without penalty as the position of the ball is still marked. Once the ball-marker is removed, the player is prohibited from touching the ball other than as provided in the Rules (Rule 18-2).
If a player was to putt with the ball-marker still in position, generally there is no penalty, but it is not good practice to do so. Moreover, if the ball-marker was shaped in such a way that it could or did aid in alignment, the player is subject to penalty under Rule 8-2b (Indicating Line of Play On the Putting Green).
The Note to Rule 20-1 recommends that the position of the ball should be marked by placing a ball-marker, small coin or other similar object immediately behind the ball. While the shape of a ball-marker may take any form, as a general guideline, a ball-marker should not by larger than 2 inch by 2 inch square and should not be deeper than 0.25 inches.
This Note to Rule 20-1 is a recommendation of best practice, but there is no penalty for failing to act in accordance with the Note. Examples of methods of marking the position of the ball that are commonly used but are not recommended are:
- placing a toe of a club at the side of, or behind the ball:
- using a tee;
- using a loose impediment;
- scratching a line on the ground, provided the putting green is not tested and a line for putting is not indicated.
As the latter may cause damage to the putting surface, this practice is to be discouraged if you don’t want to experience the wrath of the greenkeeper!
It is worth noting that under Rule 20-1, it is necessary to physically mark the position of the ball. Reference to a mark or blemish on the ground does not constitute marking the position of the ball.
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