If you are a competing in a stroke play competition and you, your caddie or your equipment touch another player’s ball, there is no penalty and if the ball is moved it must be replaced (Rule 18-4). This means that there is no breach of the Rules if you lift another player’s ball to identify it, even if neither of you had marked it first. But I am always uneasy when I see this happen. If I am searching for a ball and find one in the rough I will try and read the branding, number and identifying marks without touching it. If the ball is lying in such a position that this is not possible, I then call over the player whose ball it might be and let them mark and identify their ball. I then meet my obligation to all the other competitors in the competition by witnessing that it is replaced in the same lie that it had before it was touched.
In match play, there is no penalty if a player, their caddie or their equipment moves, touches, or causes their opponent’s ball to move while they are searching for it. Rule 18-3a. However, if a match play player’s ball is moved other than during search the opponent who moved the ball does incur a penalty of one stroke (Rule 18-3b). In either case, if the ball is moved it must be replaced.
Then we have the circumstance where a player has played another player’s ball by mistake. You should be aware that playing a wrong ball incurs a penalty of two strokes in stroke play, or loss of hole in match play, and that any strokes made with the wrong ball do not count in the player’s score. But did you know that if the wrong ball belongs to another player only they may place a ball on the spot from which their ball was first played? The relevant words in Rule 15-3b are;
“If the wrong ball belongs to another competitor, its owner must place a ball on the spot from which the wrong ball was first played.”Finally, there are occasions when to save time players will mark another player’s ball on the putting green because it lies close to a line of putt. Strictly speaking, the player should obtain authorisation from the owner of the ball before they mark and lift it. However, as has previously been noted, there is no penalty in stroke play for touching another player’s ball so this courtesy is often overlooked. But there is a penalty for the same action in match play. Decision 20-1/2 confirms that a player who marks and lifts his opponent’s ball on the putting green without authorisation incurs a penalty of one stroke.
Q. In a match between A and B, B, without A's authority, marked the position of, and lifted, A's ball on the putting green. Is B subject to penalty?Good golfing,
A. Yes. Under Rule 20-1, a player's ball may be lifted by his opponent only with the authority of the player. Since B was not entitled to lift A's ball, B incurred a penalty stroke — Rule 18-3b.
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