Ask the Rules Guy: Fixing spike marks on the green

As I was walking toward my ball on the green, I stopped to fix some spike marks that an inconsiderate group in front of us had left near the hole. The guy I was playing with immediately protested, saying that it was against the rules to fix spike marks on the green. I told him that since I was just doing maintenance it wasn't a penalty, and that the spike marks weren't in my line of putt, anyway. I was in the clear, right?
— Tom Sensale, Jacksonville, Fla.

Since there's no guarantee that you're going to make your putt, virtually any spot on the green could be the next place you end up putting from. That's why, according to Decision 16-1c/4, it's illegal to repair spike marks anywhere in the vicinity of the hole, regardless of whether or not they were in your current line of putt. I applaud your civic-minded green maintenance, but next time it might be a good idea to wait until you've holed out to do it — you'll save yourself a one-stroke penalty.