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Ball Moving After Address
Hover in Safety

Learn the rule and procedure for dealing with a ball that moves after address.Flirting With Disaster

Many, many years ago (unfortunately) I was playing in a college tournament in Memphis. I had just missed the green off to the side and my ball had rolled across the cart path and up under a small pine tree. I knew the ball was in a precarious position and that I shouldn't even attempt to ground my club. I went through my pre shot routine, stepped up to the ball, got in my stance, hovered my club above and beyond the ball and just as I was ready to start the swing, the ball rolled a half turn or so. Nobody saw it but me, but of course you have to call these penalties on yourself. As unfair as it was, I was penalized. Fortunately since then (as of 2012) that part of the rule changed. Now there is an "exception" to the rule that if it is known or certain that the player didn't cause the ball to move, he won't incur a penalty. Yes, there is always part of humanity that has to suffer so those in the future can live a better life!

An Extensive Rule, But One Worth Knowing

Rule 18 in the USGA Rules of Golf book is extensive so I'm just sharing the first two sections:

"18-1. By Outside Agency
If a ball at rest is moved by an outside agency, there is no penalty and the ball must be replaced.

Note: It is a question of fact whether a ball has been moved by an outside agency. In order to apply this Rule, it must be known or virtually certain that an outside agency has moved the ball. In the absence of such knowledge or certainty, the player must play the ball as it lies or, if the ball is not found, proceed under Rule 27-1.

(Player's ball at rest moved by another ball - see Rule 18-5)

18-2. By Player, Partner, Caddie Or Equipment
a. General
Except as permitted by the Rules, when a player's ball is in play, if

(i) the player, his partner or either of their caddies:

• lifts or moves the ball,

• touches it purposely (except with a club in the act of addressing the ball), or

• causes the ball to move, or

(ii) the equipment of the player or his partner causes the ball to move, the player incurs a penalty of one stroke. If the ball is moved, it must be replaced, unless the movement of the ball occurs after the player has begun the stroke or the backward movement of the club for the stroke and the stroke is made. Under the Rules there is no penalty if a player accidentally causes his ball to move in the following circumstances:

In searching for a ball covered by sand, in the replacement of Loose Impediments moved in a Hazard while finding or identifying a ball, in probing for a ball lying in water in a Water Hazard or in searching for a ball in an Obstruction or an Abnormal Ground Condition - Rule 12-1
In repairing a Hole plug or ball mark - Rule 16-1c
In measuring - Rule 18-6
In lifting a ball under a Rule - Rule 20-1
In placing or replacing a ball under a Rule - Rule 20-3a
In removing a Loose Impediment on the Putting Green - Rule 23-1
In removing movable Obstructions - Rule 24-1
b. Ball Moving After Address
If a player's ball in play moves after he has addressed it (other than as a result of a stroke), the player is deemed to have moved the ball and incurs a penalty of one stroke. The ball must be replaced, unless the movement of the ball occurs after the player has begun the stroke or the backward movement of the club for the stroke and the stroke is made.

Exception: If it is known or virtually certain that the player did not cause his ball to move, Rule 18-2b does not apply."

The above covers the ball being moved by an outside agency, by a player, by his partner, by his caddie, by his equipment and moving after address. What I'm not covering in this article are things like a ball being moved by an opponent, an opponent's caddie, an opponent's equipment and by another ball. For those items you will want to refer to the entire Rule 18.

Better Safe Than Sorry

Rub of the green is a tough pill to swallow so your ball won't always end up where you want it to. If it ends up in a precarious location just make sure to hover rather than ground the club. It's better to be safe than sorry. Also pay attention to your feet. Even though they are a few feet away from the ball, if you step on a twig or some soft pine needles it can cause things to shift. Just be careful not to do "anything" in other words that could cause the ball to roll.

As with everything in golf always remember the "play it as it lies" rule and don't ever assume you can move your ball. Check with a rules official, tournament committee member and/or a playing partner before you make a move and when in doubt play 2 balls. This rule is fortunately more protective now because if it is the wind or something else that forces the ball to move, you won't be to blame unlike days passed.

Maria Palozola

Maria Palozola is a member of the LPGA and has participated in multiple LPGA Tour events. She has provided instruction to thousands of students in the past 20+ years and has won multiple teaching awards from the LPGA, Golf Digest, and Golf Magazine including being ranked as one of the top 50 female instructors in the world.

Who is Maria Palozola?
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