My Golf Instructor

Searching For and Identifying Your Ball
Use Caution When Confirming It's Yours

Learn how to search for and identify your ball under the rules of golf.Identifying Your Ball

One of the first things I teach my junior golfers when they are preparing for their first competitive round is to mark their ball. I remember my college coach reminding us to do it before we teed off on every single round. While it's of course important to be able to distinguish your ball from your competitor's (you may both be playing Titleist 1 for instance) it's equally important to be able to identify your ball if it is covered in leaves or deep grass. For example, if you could see only the top part of the ball and it said Taylor Made 3, but after you struck it out of the bad lie and got on the green to mark it you realized it had someone else's mark on it, you would have hit the wrong ball. Hitting the wrong ball is an entirely different rule and I cover that in a separate article.

Don't Move the Ball!

To help you identify your ball the rules of golf does allow for you to touch and bend the long grasses or weeds that surround your ball provided of course it doesn't improve your ball or cause your ball to move. You can see the details here in USGA Rule 12:

"12-1. Seeing Ball; Searching For Ball
A player is not necessarily entitled to see his ball when making a stroke.

In searching for his ball anywhere on the course, the player may touch or bend long grass, rushes, bushes, whins, heather or the like, but only to the extent necessary to find or identify the ball, provided that this does not improve the lie of the ball, the area of his intended stance or swing or his line of play; if the ball is moved, Rule 18-2a applies except as provided in clauses a - d of this Rule."

As you can see, the rules make it very possible to identify your ball even if it is covered. Putting your own personal mark on it with a sharpie will only makes it easier to identify. In addition, the rules go on to further with Rule 12-1 (a through d) to provide steps on how to identify your ball if it's in sand, covered by loose impediments in a hazard, in a water hazard, or within an obstrucion or abnormal ground condition.

Notify First; Identify Second

Failure to identify your ball properly can cause you to be penalized as well. Just last year Scottish golfer Marin Laird was penalized because he didn't notify his competitors that he was trying to identify his ball in the long grass. Basically, if he had announced what he was doing, it would have been fine, but the rule states that you must inform your fellow competitors what you are doing. Here is USGA Rule 12-2:

"Lifting Ball For Identification
The responsibility for playing the proper ball rests with the player. Each player should put an identification mark on his ball.

If a player believes that a ball at rest might be his, but he cannot identify it, the player may lift the ball for identification, without penalty. The right to lift a ball for identification is in addition to the actions permitted under Rule 12-1.

Before lifting the ball, the player must announce his intention to his opponent in match play or his marker or a fellow-competitor in stroke play and mark the position of the ball. He may then lift the ball and identify it, provided that he gives his opponent, marker or fellow-competitor an opportunity to observe the lifting and replacement. The ball must not be cleaned beyond the extent necessary for identification when lifted under Rule 12-2.

If the ball is the player's ball and he fails to comply with all or any part of this procedure, or he lifts his ball in order to identify it without having good reason to do so, he incurs a penalty of one stroke. If the lifted ball is the player's ball, he must replace it. If he fails to do so, he incurs the general penalty for a breach of Rule 12-2, but there is no additional penalty under this Rule.

Note: If the original lie of a ball to be replaced has been altered, see Rule 20-3b."

The moral of the story here is to A) put your own identifying mark on your ball and B) make sure to always notify your competitors of what you are doing. It's always to be safe than sorry.

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.

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