What are the odds? Two different shots, played from separate parts of the course, have landed together. It looks like a bit of a pickle but our Rules of Golf expert is here to advise

The poacher has turned gamekeeper this week. Normally, I’m just answering the questions but today I want to provide the poser too – as this actually happened to me on the course the last time I was out.

In a fourball betterball, my partner and I both played our approach shots on the 3rd hole and each of us missed the green and landed in the rough. When we arrived, we found our balls side by side – they were in fact touching – and, clearly, the question was: ‘What now?’

How would you proceed in this situation? Let’s see if we’re all on the same wavelength…

Rules of golf explained: Our expert says…

rules of golf

This was actually the first time, in 30-odd years of hacking about, that I’ve seen this happen in the general area.

And before you all start shouting that the answer is easy, there are a couple of things you need to be careful about.

Clearly, my ball, which was closest to the hole, is interfering with the play of my partner’s.

Rule 15.3b – Ball Anywhere on Course Interfering With Play – states that “interference under this Rule exists when another player’s ball at rest: might interfere with the player’s area of intended stance or area of intended swing, is on or close to the player’s line of play such that, given the intended stroke, there is reasonable chance the player’s ball in motion could hit that ball, or is close enough to distract the player in making the stroke”.

Now, if my partner reasonably believes my ball may interfere with his play, as is obviously the case here, he can require me to mark the spot and lift the ball.

Here’s the trick. I can’t clean it in this situation. What constitutes cleaning? Well, putting it a pocket could be construed as cleaning if it rubs off any materials that were on it.

That’s why you’ll often see players holding their ball as if it’s diseased – they’re worried about being seen to clean the ball.

If I clean it, or failed to mark the spot before lifting the ball, it’s a penalty stroke.

And if my marker is then interfering, I can move that out of the way – or be required to do so – to a new spot “measured from its original spot, such as by using one or more clubhead-lengths”.

Right. My partner plays and I need to replace my ball on its original spot.

But there’s another problem. My mate hit a wedge out of the rough and he’s obliterated the area where my ball was.

What now? For that, we move on to Rule 14.2d (2). This looks at where to replace the ball if the original lie is altered.

When it is anywhere except in sand, I must replace the ball by placing it on the “nearest spot with a lie most similar to the original lie”.

That has to be within a club length from its original spot, no nearer the hole, and in the same area of the course as that spot.

If I hadn’t been paying attention, and didn’t know what the original lie was, I must estimate and then replace the ball.

Have a question for our Rules of Golf expert?

Despite the simplification of the Rules of Golf at the beginning of 2019, there are still some that leave us scratching our heads. And as I’ve passed the R&A’s level 2 rules exam with distinction, I am more than happy to help.

Click here for the full Rules of Golf explained archive and details of how to submit a question to our expert.

Follow NCG on TwitterFacebook and Instagram – and don’t forget to subscribe to our YouTube channel for free online golf instruction, the latest equipment reviews, and much, much more.