Know the Rules: Hitting the Wrong Ball

The embarrassing error of hitting the wrong ball comes about for one of two reasons. Either the person hitting the ball wasn’t paying attention, or the ball that was hit was not properly identified. There’s really no other way this can happen, and the fixes are easy.

Put an identifying mark on your ball with a colored felt-tip pen. This is suggested by Rules 6-5 and 12-2. It can be a dot, two dots, something that makes your ball stand out from the others being played by the members of your group. I fill in a dimple with green ink next to the manufacturer’s logo. Tell the members of your group what ball you’re playing and show them the mark before you tee off on the first hole.

When you get up to the ball that you think is yours, look at it. Check to see that it is the same brand as yours and has the same mark you drew on it. Get into the habit of checking before you hit any shot. Check before you hit your tee shot to be sure your ball is marked. Check on every shot up to the green. Once you get to the green, check to be sure the ball you’re about to mark and pick up is yours.

Let’s say that despite these precautions, you hit someone else’s ball. What now?

You must correct the mistake. Go to where your ball lies and play it, taking a two-stroke penalty. The stroke you made on the wrong ball does not count on your score. The owner of the ball you hit must place a ball on the spot where the wrong ball was hit and play from there, with no penalty. If you do not correct your mistake before you tee off on the next hole, you are disqualified. These procedures are found in Rule 15-3.

So far, so good. Now let’s have some fun. What happens if you hit a wrong ball, correct it by hitting your ball, but come to realize that wasn’t your ball, either. You’ve hit a wrong ball twice in a row. Fortunately the Rule book is kind. You only have to take one two-stroke penalty for hitting a wrong ball, not a four-stroke penalty for hitting two wrong balls.

Deep Rule: Say you and another player in your group are playing the same brand and number of ball, and neither are marked. (You can sense something bad is about to happen, can’t you?) Say that you both hit up to the green and each ball settles into deep rough on the right side. You both go up to where the two balls are lying and see that they are about a foot apart, but which ball is whose? You don’t want to take a penalty for hitting a wrong ball, so what do you do?

That was a trick question. Right ball or wrong ball is not the issue here. If you cannot identify which ball is yours, it is a lost ball (Definitions). Since neither of you marked the ball in play, each ball is lost and each of you must take a stroke-and-distance penalty. This situation, or some form of it where a player is confronted with two balls and is unable to say which one is his/hers, happens more often than you would think in amateur competition.

Please. Always put an identifying mark on your ball. Always check to see that the ball you’re about to hit is yours. It’s so simple to do, and it saves you so much grief.

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