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Hey Rules Guy: I was playing what I thought was a friendly game with a co-worker last week. We were both on the green and, to save time, I decided to do away with marking my ball and simply rotate it a bit so that the ball's logo faced the hole. My "friend" called me out, saying that you have to mark your ball if you are going to move it. I replied that not only had I not changed the location of the ball, I hadn't even lifted it off the ground — I just rotated it. Still, he insisted I had to mark my ball. Tell me I can tell him off.
— Jon M., via e-mail
This is why you should never mix business with pleasure. According to Decision 18-2a/33, any time a player adjusts his ball on the green for a reason not provided for in the Rules, he must mark the position of his ball. By touching your ball (much less actually moving or rotating it), you were in violation of Rule 18-2, and earned a one-stroke penalty. If you had listened to your co-worker, you would have saved yourself a shot. Sounds like you've got some apologizing to do at the water cooler.
HIS NAME IS MUD
Rules Responder: My buddy chunked his ball into very wet rough, and when we got to where we thought it had landed, there were two balls there. My friend said he was going to have to rub off some mud to identify his ball, but when I looked he had all but completely cleaned it! My friend said that once you lift a ball you are allowed to clean it. Is he right?
— Cory Doan, Woodstock, N.Y.
That's one dirty trick. While Rule 21 does state that a ball may be cleaned when it's lifted on or through the green, there are exceptions. According to Rule 21b, when a ball is lifted to be examined (under Rule 12-2), it may only be cleaned to "the extent necessary for identification." Assuming that your friend didn't need to examine every dimple on his ball to determine that it was his, he was in violation, and that cost him a one-stroke penalty. If you let your buddy get away with this move, he took you to the cleaners.
RG: 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.
This article first appeared in the January 2012 issue of Golf Magazine. The tablet version of Golf Magazine is available for free for magazine subscribers on iPad, Kindle Fire, Nook Tablet, Nook Color and Samsung Galaxy Tab. Learn more