Your ball is attracting the attention of another player. What if they move it or, worse, pick it up? Our Rules of Golf expert explains

Yes, a spectator really did pick up Phil Mickelson’s ball on the 11th hole in the final round of the PGA Championship at Kiawah Island. Beggars belief, I know.

But it happens more than you think. I can vividly remember nearly being decapitated by a rogue Bubba Watson drive at Royal Lytham at the 2012 Open and then watching a fan not only lift the ball but try and run off with it.

Don’t think the club game is immune, either. A shiny Pro V1 is treasure to a golfer who might think its owner has mislaid it.

So if you find a random player fiddling with your ball – ahem – then here’s what you do…

Rules of Golf explained: Our expert says…

Turn your rule books open to 9.6 – ‘Ball Lifted or Moved by Outside Influence’.

You need to know or be virtually certain it happened – seeing your ball being shifted clearly qualifies – but if your ball is lifted or moved by an outside influence, which includes another player in stroke play, there is no penalty.

You need to replace the ball on its original spot, or estimate if that isn’t known – like if you’re watching someone making eyes at it from 200 yards away.

What if they’ve nicked your ball? Firstly, restrain yourself. But never fear. This rule applies whether or not your ball has been found.

Now, you might have felt the bit about known or virtually certain at the start of this section was a little weird. After all, you’ve watched someone make off with your precious Titleist.

But what if you merely harboured suspicions? In that case, if it’s not known, or virtually certain, the ball was lifted or moved by an outside influence – and you couldn’t find it – then you’d have no other option but to take stroke-and-distance relief.

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.

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