Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Hunter Mahan and Jamie Donaldson Play Wrong Balls

Photo ©USGA/Fred Vuich
I am sure that most readers will have been as surprised as I was to hear that two well-known Tour Players had played each other’s ball at the US Open at Pinehurst 2 last week. Apparently, both players were playing a Titleist golf ball with a similar slash through the number, which partly explains the circumstances behind their costly mistake. John Wood, Hunter Mahan’s caddie (in the red bib in the photo), gives a further explanation;
“Hunter’s ball had kicked right so I assumed it was the one in the middle of the fairway. Jamie’s ball, to me, looked definitely left. I got up to the ball, I was the first one there. Completely my fault. I went to the ball first, got the yardage, gave the yardage to Hunter, Jamie and Mic went over to their ball and played their ball after Hunter hit his. It was 100% my fault.”

“Not until we got to the green, did we realize what had happened. It was 100% on me. I was the first one to the ball.”

“I still can’t grasp what happened. It doesn’t make any sense to me…You are out here every day for 17 years, you know where the ball goes in the fairway. I can’t grasp where the ball ended up…but that is no excuse, it was my fault. I went to the ball first.”
So, what are the Rules issues in this situation? Well, both players incurred a penalty of two strokes for playing a wrong ball, Rule 15-3. They had to correct their error by playing their own ball from where it lay before it was moved by the other player. If the exact spot and lie was known they could have placed their ball there, but in most cases this is not the case and the ball has to be dropped, as near as possible to where it was at rest, Rule 20-3c. In the Mahan/Donaldson incident the players realised that they had switched balls before making their next stroke, but it would not have mattered if they had played more than one stroke with a wrong ball, or if they had incurred a penalty with that ball; the maximum penalty for playing a wrong ball in stroke play is two strokes. However, the competitor must correct their mistake by playing the correct ball or by proceeding under the Rules, e.g. if their original ball is lost or unplayable. If they fail to correct their mistake before making a stroke on the next teeing ground or, in the case of the last hole of the round, fail to declare their intention to correct their mistake before leaving the putting green, they are disqualified.

Do you always mark your golf balls to minimise the possibility of playing a wrong ball? Here is a relevant tip from my eDocument, ’99 Tips on Using the Rules of Golf to Your Advantage’;
7. Ensure that you put personal identification marks on all your golf balls. Be bold with how you mark your ball so that you can immediately recognise it. In my experience, having a distinct personal identification mark on your golf balls is the easiest way to avoid playing a wrong ball and can save you many penalty strokes over the course of a year. The Rules say that players should put an identification mark on their ball, but my advice is to make this a must. Rule 12-2.
(Click here if you would like to benefit from reading my other 98 tips!)
I wonder if you noticed how many players in the US Open had marked their ball with a line around all or part of the circumference. One of the pundits on the channel that I was watching even commented on it. This way of marking a ball can be very useful in lining-up a tee shot or a putt and is completely within the Rules, which may surprise some readers, as it seems at odds with Rule 14-2b, part of which states;
A player must not make a stroke with his caddie, his partner or his partner’s caddie positioned on or close to an extension of the line of play or line of putt behind the ball.
A line drawn on the ball would seem to be a better way of lining-up a tee shot or putt than to have a caddie or partner standing immediately behind you in breach of Rule 14-2, which personally I would find distracting anyway.

Good golfing,


The above content is strictly copyright to Barry Rhodes © 2014 and may not be copied without permission.


John said...

Regarding the line marked on the ball, I wish they would make using it to line up your shot illegal. It's an aid. Aids are illegal. I realize marking your ball is legal but to specifically rotate your ball along that line for a putt or drive should be banned. Besides it slows down the game. Nothing is more irritating than watching Furyk or Fowler test and reset the alignment two or three times.

Barry Rhodes said...


It's an interesting point of view; but not one that I share. Many manufacturer's brands and corporate logos on balls include a line of writing, which serves the same purpose.