Ask the Rules Guy: Showdowns on the green and beached balls

June 28, 2010

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DEAR RULES GUY: My buddy and I landed very close to each other on the green. My ball was slightly behind and to the right of his, so I was away. Unfortunately, taking my normal stance would have forced me to put my foot directly on his ball marker (and/or directly in his line). I refused to take an awkward stance or to step on his marker, and he refused to putt first (which I’m sure he wouldn’t have wanted to do because it would have shown me the line), leading to a showdown on the green. Who was right?
Mike Henderson, Polk City, Iowa

What you’re describing is a question of the Rules versus etiquette, and in golf the Rules win the day. While it is absolutely inappropriate to step in your opponent’s line of putt (much less on his actual ball marker), Rule 10-2b makes it clear that the player who is farthest from the hole must play first. You can always ask him to go first, but he’s under no obligation to put your peace of mind ahead of his own. Go ahead and putt, and if you mess up his line it may be repaired after you take your stroke (Decision 16-1a/13).

In a high school golf tournament my teammate chipped to within inches of the hole. He pulled the stick from the cup with his left hand and (while still holding the pin) made the putt with his right hand. As soon as the ball fell, our coach, who was watching from off the green, called a two-stroke penalty. Was that really called for?

Craig Nelson, Tallmadge, Ohio

One thing that I’ve learned over years of answering your questions is that high school golf coaches either need to do a lot more coaching (and a lot less refereeing) or a lot more studying of the Rules. There is no Rule to prevent you from holding the flagstick for yourself, and Decision 17-1/5 makes it crystal clear that the action isn’t prohibited. Assuming that the ball never touched the flagstick and the flagstick did not touch the line of putt, he did nothing wrong. Your teammate should have had more confidence, and that coach should have had a muzzle.


I hit a drive that came to rest against a rake that was half in and half out of the greenside bunker. If I move the rake the ball will roll into the bunker. Can I replace the ball where it came to rest, or do I have to play it from the bunker?
Jordan Atkins, Cincinnati, Ohio

While the USGA and R&A both recommend that you leave the rake out of the bunker (as do most average players, who like to catch a lucky break from time to time), many courses prefer the rake to be left in the bunker, so that it doesn’t have to be moved every time the crew mows the grass. Consequently, the “half-in, half-out rake” has become the symbol of the ambivalent weekend golfer. Luckily for you, rakes are considered by the Rules to be movable obstructions, so your awkward lie won’t cost you anything. Just abide by Rule 24-1 and remove the rake. If the ball moves as a result, replace it on the spot where it was last at rest.