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Hitting the Wrong Ball

Learn the rule and procedure for hitting the wrong ball.Hitting the Wrong Ball

It's funny how often when I sit down to write an article about a rule that I remember and instance when I was in fact affected by that very rule in competition. I guess when you've played as long as I have (38 years at the time of this writing) and competed as long as I have (36 years) that you are bound to come across almost every rule in the book at one time or another.

Back in 1992 I was competing in the St. Louis District Women's Championship. It was the quarter final round and on about the 5th hole I hit the wrong ball. My competitor followed my lead, unfortunately and also hit the wrong ball. We were both playing the same brand and type of ball and of course had put our personal marks on them, but the mark was not showing and when she said it was my ball and I was out, I played my turn. Without giving it a second thought, she did the same. Fortunately this was match play so I only lost the hole. I went on to win, but had it been stroke play it could have been a damaging 2 stroke penalty that altered my position in the field.

A Heavy Penalty For an Honest Mistake

Failing to correct your mistake before the next teeing ground actually results in a harsh disqualification. That's pretty rough for what could be an honest mistake and one that is difficult to realize if you come across a ball of the same make and number. This is why it is so important to not only put your personal mark on the ball with a sharpie, but to also make it very noticeable.

USGA Rule 5 below describes the proper steps to take for both match and stroke play when you hit the wrong ball:

"5-1. General
A player must hole out with the ball played from the teeing ground, unless the ball is lost or out of bounds or the player substitutes another ball, whether or not substitution is permitted (see Rule 15-2). If a player plays a wrong ball, see

Rule 15-3."

"15-3. Wrong Ball
a. Match Play
If a player makes a stroke at a wrong ball, he loses the hole.

If the wrong ball belongs to another player, its owner must place a ball on the spot from which the wrong ball was first played. If the player and opponent exchange balls during the play of a hole, the first to make a stroke at a wrong ball loses the hole; when this cannot be determined, the hole must be played out with the balls exchanged.

Exception: There is no penalty if a player makes a stroke at a wrong ball that is moving in water in a water hazard. Any strokes made at a wrong ball moving in water in a water hazard do not count in the player's score. The player must correct his mistake by playing the correct ball or by proceeding under the Rules.

(Placing and Replacing - see Rule 20-3)

b. Stroke Play
If a competitor makes a stroke or strokes at a wrong ball, he incurs a penalty of two strokes. The competitor must correct his mistake by playing the correct ball or by proceeding under the Rules. If he fails to correct his mistake before making a stroke on the next teeing ground or, in the case of the last hole of the round, fails to declare his intention to correct his mistake before leaving the putting green, he is disqualified.

Strokes made by a competitor with a wrong ball do not count in his score. If the wrong ball belongs to another competitor, its owner must place a ball on the spot from which the wrong ball was first played.

Exception: There is no penalty if a competitor makes a stroke at a wrong ball that is moving in water in a water hazard. Any strokes made at a wrong ball moving in water in a water hazard do not count in the competitor's score.

(Placing and Replacing - see Rule 20-3)"

Take the Proper Steps to Identify Your Ball

Remember there is Rule 12 which will help guide you if you need to identify your ball. I wrote a refresher on Rule 12 here:
/instruction/rules-of-golf/searching-for-and-identifying-your-ball/.
Brush up on rule 12 so you will know how to proceed if you are in doubt as to whether or not a ball is actually yours. It's much better to take the proper steps to identify the ball than to guess and get penalized with either 2 strokes or a disqualification. Always mark your ball with a sharpie so that you will be able to distinguish it from other balls of the same make and number. Before you proceed in identifying your ball make sure to announce to your competitors the steps you are taking.

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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