Golf Rules: Moving a Ball Mark on the Green Accidentally

As I was watching Billy Horschel play in a PGA tournament round, I noticed that when he marked his ball on the green he picked up his ball and quickly pressed down on his ball mark with the ball.  It made me think what would happen if the ball mark moved when he did this.  In addition, I’ve played with a lot of players (and have done it myself) who press down on the ball mark with their putter.  In fact, one early damp Saturday morning, my buddy pressed down on his ball mark walked to the edge of the green to wait his turn.  When it was his turn to putt, he couldn’t find his mark.  We found his mark, near where he had been standing.  When he had pressed down on the ball mark with his putter, the dew on the putter caused the mark to stick to it and he unintentionally carried it with him.

So what’s the penalty for moving a ball mark?

There is no penalty for accidentally moving the ball mark in the act of marking the ball.  So if part of your routine is to press down on the mark with your ball immediately after picking it up (like Horschel) or with your putter and it moves, you need to replace the mark as closely as possible to its original position.  In the case of my buddy, we all had to estimate where the mark had been and he ultimately needed to determine where he would replace it.

Now let’s change the facts just a bit.  Let’s say Horschel has marked his ball, stands up and tosses the ball in the air intending to catch the ball.   He missed the catch, the ball lands on the ball mark and the ball mark moves.  Or in moving out of the line of someone else’s putt, my buddy pressed down on this ball mark on the green and this time his putter picked it up.  Now, it’s a penalty of one stroke.  The player needs to replace the mark as closely as possible, but because in each case the player caused the ball mark to move in a situation that was not part of marking the ball, the penalty is incurred.  Note that this also applies to a player’s caddie or, in the case of an event where there are teams, the player’s partner or that player’s caddie.

One final scenario.  Let’s say Horschel’s opponent drops a ball and it moves Horschel’s mark?  Or let’s say that when I’m golfing with my buddy I step on his mark and it sticks to my shoe and I end up moving it.  What’s the penalty?   No penalty for Horschel and no penalty for me or my buddy as long as I am not a partner of my buddy.  The player needs to replace the mark as closely as possible to its original position and that’s that.  If the player fails to replace the mark and putts from the incorrect place, he will incur a penalty of one stroke.

USGA Rule 20-1

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