Tuesday, 11 March 2014

When You Don’t Know from Where a Ball Was Moved

The spectator points to where she thinks Luke Donald’s ball was at rest
An amusing incident at the WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral last Friday prompted me to write this blog on what players should do when their ball has been moved and they cannot be sure where it was at rest. Luke Donald’s wayward tee shot came to rest close to a path. A girl walking by thought that she had found a stray ball picked it up and carried on walking. Fortunately, a photographer saw what had happened and chased after her. The question then was; ‘Where was the ball at rest when it was lifted?’ The poor girl was obviously embarrassed with the situation and at first threw down the ball nowhere near the correct spot. With a little help she then pointed with her foot to the approximate position where it was when she picked it up. The question that Luke then faced is one that many golfers face when they have to replace a ball when its position has not been marked. Should their ball be dropped or placed?

Before I answer this question, take a look at Golf Channels’ short video of the Luke Donald incident, by clicking here and then on the play button.

It is Rule 20-3 that deals with placing and replacing a ball. Replacing indicates that the ball must be placed on the exact spot from which it was lifted or moved. In many cases, as with the Luke Donald incident, this spot is not easy to accurately determine as the player may have been nowhere near their ball when it was moved. This is where Rule 20-3c comes into play;

If it is impossible to determine the spot where the ball is to be placed or replaced:

(i) through the green, the ball must be dropped as near as possible to the place where it lay but not in a hazard or on a putting green;

(ii) in a hazard, the ball must be dropped in the hazard as near as possible to the place where it lay;

(iii) on the putting green, the ball must be placed as near as possible to the place where it lay but not in a hazard.

Exception: When resuming play (Rule 6-8d), if the spot where the ball is to be placed is impossible to determine, it must be estimated and the ball placed on the estimated spot.
It is not wholly clear whether the walking official permitted Luke Donald to place his ball last Friday; in my view it should probably have been dropped. How do you make this decision during a round? In my opinion, if there is general agreement as to the position of the ball before it was moved between those that witnessed it at rest, which could include the player, fellow competitors, other players, officials, caddies and spectators, then the ball may be placed at that spot. However, if there is no consensus as to the spot then the ball should be dropped at an agreed, estimated point that is definitely not nearer the hole than where the ball was likely to have been when it was moved. If there was agreement and the ball was placed, it would be a very harsh Committee to subsequently rule that the ball should have been dropped and impose a retrospective penalty of two strokes. The above assumes that the incident arises in stroke play; in match play the player would have to make a valid claim under Rule 2-5 if their opponent would not agree to the spot where the ball was to be placed.

Fore! warned

At least three wayward balls hit spectators during the final day’s play in Doral, Florida. It began with Tiger Wood’s first stroke of the day, which drew blood from a German tourist when the ball hit him squarely on the head. An apology, a signed glove and two holes later Tiger repeated the performance, costing him a second signed glove and apology. Bubba Watson waited until the end of his round before sending his approach shot into the 18th green amongst the spectators seated in the grandstand. My point for raising this matter is that apparently no-one shouted “Fore” on any of these three occasions; not Tiger, not Bubba, not their caddies, not the marshals and not even other spectators. And yet shouting “Fore” is a traditional warning (and courtesy) used by amateur golfers all over the world. I strongly recommend that all golfers continue to observe the etiquette of shouting this warning when they hit an errant shot, as there have been several legal cases around the world, where this has been a deciding factor in the resolution of liability.

Good golfing,

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Anonymous said...

Rule of my little finger - if the spot is not precisely known it must be dropped. "Precisely known" is no larger than than the tip of my little finger. Since placing the ball is such an advantage (Decision Misc/1 is an example), the precise spot must be known otherwise the ball must be dropped. Imo, any doubt must be resolved against the player.

Barry Rhodes said...


I strongly disagree. Why should a player be penalised by having to take the random result of a drop because someone else has wrongly picked-up, played or kicked their ball in play. By definition, the result of a drop, after which the ball can roll up to two club-lengths, is less likely to be close to where the ball originally lay, than making the best effort to place a ball at an estimated spot that is agreed by those present. As a regular watcher of televised golf tournaments it seems to me that a majority of Rules Officials at Tour events do their best to identify the place where a player's ball was at rest before being moved by an outside agency and then permit the player to place it at that spot.


Anonymous said...

I stand by my original post - if the precise spot (as described above) isn't known, the ball must be dropped and the player accept the random result. Since the player didn't see the original lie of the ball, he doesn't know that either.

Barry Rhodes said...


We will have to agree to disagree. Experience shows me that when a ball has been moved by an outside agent most Rules Officials take a more realistic interpretation of the statement in Rule 20-7 that states;

If it is impossible to determine the spot where the ball is to be placed or replaced: ...

If this was not the case, a player would always have to drop their ball through the green when it was moved from the spot where it had come to rest by another ball in motion. I cannot ever recalling an incident where a Rules Official demanded that the ball be dropped in these circumstances.


Anonymous said...

When I've refereed and a ball at rest through the green is moved by a ball in motion, and the players are not standing right there to identify the spot, I've always had the player drop the ball because the precise spot is not known (just as I was taught). No player has ever objected.

Anthony D'Cruz said...

Hi Barry,
Is it possible to write to you to seek clarification on certain aspects of the rules of golf?
Thank you and regards
Anthony D'Cruz

Barry Rhodes said...


Yes, you can email me with questions on the Rules of Golf at rules at barry dot rhodes dot com. However, please use the search box at the top right of my blogs before doing so, as I have covered many of the more regularly asked questions over the past four years.