Sunday, April 21, 2013

When Do I Mark the Ball?


            Rule 20-1 states that when a ball is to be lifted under the Rules, “The position of the ball must be marked before it is lifted under a Rule that requires it to be replaced.  If it is not marked, the player incurs a penalty of one stroke and the ball must be replaced.”  There are many instances in the Rules where this applies, and a player who fails to mark his ball will incur this “procedural” penalty.  There are also many instances, however, where this Rule is not applicable and the player is not required to mark the ball.  To look further into this, it will be helpful to review permissible methods of marking the ball, the Rules that require the ball to be marked before lifting it, and several Rules that do not require the ball to be marked prior to lifting it.  Remember, if you are ever in doubt, you are never penalized for marking the ball (without lifting it) even if it is not required.

Marking the Golf Ball

            Under the Note to Rule 20-1 we are told that the position of a ball to be lifted should be marked by placing a ball-marker, a small coin or other similar object immediately behind the ball.  It’s important to remember that this is a should and a player is not penalized if he accurately marks the ball using some other method, or does so in front of or to the side of the ball, so long as the ball is replaced in the correct spot.  Decision 20-1/16 gives us several other examples of acceptable methods for marking the golf ball, including placing the toe of the club next to the ball, using a tee, using a loose impediment or even scratching a line provided that nothing is done to test the surface or indicate a line for putting.  Note that these are acceptable methods but are not recommended.
            The Decision also tells us what is unacceptable.  A player cannot mark the position of the ball with reference to an existing mark on the green, even if that mark is directly behind or underneath the ball.  It also tells us how to handle moving the ball or ball-marker to the side as to avoid interference on another player’s line of play or putt. 
            I’ve had players and officials ask whether the marker must first be placed prior to moving it one clubhead or club-length to the side and the answer is no.  The only thing that is recommended (again a should), is that whatever procedure the player uses, that procedure should be reversed to replace the ball.  So if you mark the ball with your putter head, you may directly move the ball one clubhead to the side and then mark the ball.  In returning it to its previous position, you should replace the ball, then move it back the one clubhead.

Rules Requiring the Ball to be Replaced

            There are really only a handful of situations where the player is required to replace the ball, and therefore must mark it prior to lifting.
            Under Rule 5-3, if a player believes his ball may be unfit for play, he may lift it to determine if it is unfit.  The ball must be marked and if it is not unfit, it must be replaced.  The player would incur one penalty stroke under Rule 5-3 if he fails to mark the ball prior to lifting it, even if the ball is unfit for play.  The reason for this, is that even though that specific ball might not be replaced, the substituted ball must be replaced on the exact spot.  Therefore, the ball must be marked prior to lifting even if it is determined that the ball is unfit for play.  The specific procedural clause means the penalty is under Rule 5-3 and not 20-1.
            Under Rule 12-2 you may lift your ball in order to identify it.  Since the ball must be replaced if it is your ball, it must be marked prior to lifting it.  An important note here, is that if the ball is not yours it does not have to be replaced, and therefore if you fail to mark it when the ball turns out not to be your own, there would be no penalty.  If a player fails to mark it and it is your ball, he would be penalized one stroke under Rule 12-2.  The penalty occurs under Rule 12-2 and not 20-1 because there is a specific procedural clause within the Rule. 
            Rule 16-1b permits the player to lift the ball and clean it when it lies on the putting green.  Since the ball must be replaced, if a player fails to mark the ball he would incur a one-stroke penalty under Rule 20-1.
            Under Rules 22-1 and 22-2, a ball may be lifted if it may assist or interfere with another player’s stroke.  Since the ball must be replaced, if a player fails to mark the ball prior to lifting it he would incur the penalty stroke under Rule 20-1.
            Decision 20-1/0.7 permits the player to lift the ball to determine the application of a Rule.  There will be certain situations where it is not clear whether a player is entitled to relief.  This may occur for an abnormal ground condition, an embedded ball or even a potential obstruction.  The Decision permits the player to lift the ball in order to determine whether relief is available.  Since the player may potentially have to replace the ball, it must be marked prior to lifting it.  If he fails to do so, he would incur one penalty stroke under Rule 20-1.

Rules Not Requiring a Mark

            There are countless situations where the ball will not return to the original position and therefore it does not need to be marked prior to lifting it.
            Rule 24 covers relief situations for movable and immovable obstructions.  In these situations, the ball will not be returning to the original spot and there is no penalty for lifting the ball without marking it.  It would be a good idea, however, to mark its position for several reasons: 1) if the ball lies on a movable obstruction, the player will be dropping the ball on the spot directly underneath the obstruction once it is removed.  It would be helpful to know where that spot is or; 2) when determining the nearest point of relief under Rule 24-2b, it is helpful to know where the ball originally lay because the NPR must not be any closer to the hole than that spot.
            Rules 25-1 and 25-3 cover relief for abnormal ground conditions or a wrong putting green.  When taking relief, the ball will not return to its original position and therefore there is no requirement to mark it.  Again, however, it is useful to mark it so that in determining the NPR a player does not pick an NPR closer to the hole than the original spot.
            Rule 26 covers relief situations for a ball in a water hazard.  Frequently, the ball lies in a pond or stream or other watercourse and it is impossible to retrieve the ball let alone mark it.  But even when the ball is readily available, there is no requirement to mark it.  This Rule permits substitution and the ball will be dropped in a different spot than where it originally lay.
            Rule 28 covers relief options for a ball unplayable.  Like Rule 26, the ball will not return to the original spot and another ball may be substituted, even if the original is easily recoverable.  It would be useful to mark the original spot when operating under options b or c because the original spot is the reference point for relief, but there is no penalty for not doing so.
            A specific situation where it is useful to mark the position of the ball, but is not required is a ball leaning against a rake in or near a bunker.  Under Rule 24-1 the rake may be removed and if the ball moves it must be replaced.  Since it may not move, there is no requirement to mark the ball, however, if it does, having it marked will help get the ball back to the original spot.  If you do mark the ball in this situation, do not lift it.  This Rule does not permit the player to lift the ball since there is no penalty if the ball moves when the obstruction is removed.  If a player lifts the ball in this situation he would incur one penalty stroke under Rule 18-2a and the ball must be replaced.
            As a general Rule for officials, when making a ruling under one of these Rules, I have the player leave the original ball in place.  I do this because if a player does lift the ball and then does not take relief, he would incur one penalty stroke under Rule 18-2a and the ball must be replaced.

            So if the ball is going back to its original spot, or might go back to its original spot, mark it.  

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