Ask the Rules Guy: Swap Meet

Ask the Rules Guy

Rules Guy,
My buddy and I were partnered up against a familiar (and consistently annoying) twosome last week. After I putted out on one hole, my friend picked my ball up out of the cup and handed it to me… or at least I thought he did. Fast forward to the next hole. After my buddy teed off, I got set to drive. That's when I noticed that my ball wasn't marked the way I always have it. Somehow my friend had swapped our balls on the last green and teed off with mine. The guys we were playing against let us off the hook, but said if it happened again we would lose the hole for playing the wrong ball. Were they being generous?
— Gary D., via e-mail

It may have been a little bit sloppy for your partner to mix up your golf ball, but it was far from being illegal. According to Decision 15-1/1, a ball played from the teeing ground can never be considered a wrong ball — since you are allowed to change balls between holes, there would be nothing to stop you and your partner from swapping them on purpose, let alone by accident. I guess you can let those other guys think they did you a favor, but if one of them ever tries to pull that faux rule out on you again, tell him the only wrong ball in play is the one on his shoulders.