If you’ve ever played in winds over 25 mph, winds like you could often see at The Open (or how we lads in the US refer to it, The British Open), you will have had the experience of standing over your ball preparing to putt and you see the ball “shake”. It doesn’t roll since it doesn’t change positions, but it is absolutely moving in the casual sense of the word. You know that you can’t hit a moving ball, so what do you do? Wait it out and hope for the wind to die down? Have your playing partners stand together as a wind block? Or something else?
Fortunately, the rules of golf give you an out. A ball that is “oscillating”, or quivering, is not considered to be moving. Therefore, you can go ahead and hit your ball without penalty.
What happens if your ball moves on the putting green?
But what happens if while you are in your backstroke of your putt, the ball actually goes past oscillating and moves? Brent Snedeker believed that happened to him at The Open at Muirfield in 2013. Immediately after putting the ball into the hole, he called a rules official over to express his concern that the ball moved during his stroke. If the ball moves after you begin your stroke, there is no penalty as long as nothing you did caused the ball to move. Also, if you have taken your stance and even grounded your putter and then the ball moved, if you did nothing to cause the ball to move there is no penalty.
Has this golf rule changed?
It used to be true that once you grounded your putter any errant movement of the ball would cost you a penalty stroke. That rule changed a few years ago and now you need to have caused the ball to move for it to be a penalty. It would still be a penalty if you thumped your putter on the ground and caused your ball to move.
So go ahead and let your ball oscillate. It may make you a little crazy putting at it, but at least you’ll know that you won’t be taking a penalty.
USGA Rules 14-5 (and decision 14-5/2) & 18
Photo by M Sadler