Consign it to history, or can you carry on solo? What happens when you play the wrong ball in fourball? Our Rules expert has the answer

We’re always told to clearly identify our balls – but the Rules of Golf don’t compel us to do it and sometimes we can get a bit lazy.

Occasionally it can lead to problems, and I’ll confess that even I’ve been guilty of playing the wrong ball in a fourball competition.

We know that in individual stroke play, this is a two-shot penalty and we know that in individual match-play, it’s loss of hole. Pick the ball up and move on.

But what happens when you introduce a partner into the equation. If you’re playing as a pair in a fourball and this happens, do both of you suffer the same fate?

Rules of Golf explained: Playing the wrong ball in match play

When a player breaches the rules in fourball, the penalty they receive can apply to just them or to both partners. It depends on the penalty and there is a whole section of Rule 23.9 that’s worth looking at merely to see the sheer scale of what can go wrong when two people play together!

For our purposes, though, the penalty for playing a wrong ball here would only apply to the player who hit that ball and not to their partner.

In a fourball betterball stroke play event, you’d just add the two penalty strokes to your own score and correct the mistake. In match play, your score wouldn’t count for the hole but that would not apply to your partner. They would be able to carry on and play for the side on that hole.

For those of you now wondering how you proceed with play, whoever’s ball you’ve mistakenly hit replaces a ball – it doesn’t have to be the original – on the spot from where you hit it. If they don’t know that exact point, they estimate. 

Have a question for our Rules of Golf expert?

Despite the simplification of the Rules of Golf, there are still some that leave us scratching our heads. And as I’ve passed the R&A’s Level 3 rules exam with distinction, I’ll try to help by featuring the best in this column.

You can read all of Steve’s Rules of Golf explained columns here.

Have you ever found yourself hitting the wrong ball in fourball? Let me know with a tweet.

from the clubhouse podcast

Steve Carroll

A journalist for 23 years, Steve has been immersed in club golf for almost as long. A former captain and committee member, he has passed the Level 3 Rules of Golf exam with distinction having attended the national Tournament Administrators and Referee's Seminar. He has officiated at a host of high-profile tournaments, including Open Regional Qualifying and the PGA Fourball Championship. A member of NCG's Top 100s panel, Steve has a particular love of links golf and is frantically trying to restore his single-figure handicap. Steve is currently playing: Driver: TaylorMade Stealth 2 3-Wood: TaylorMade Stealth 2 Hybrids: TaylorMade Stealth 2 Irons: TaylorMade Stealth 5-A Wedge Wedges: TaylorMade Hi-Toe 54 and 58 Putter: Sik Sho Ball: TaylorMade TP5

Handicap: 11.3

Group bookings of four or more golfers receive 10% OFF our NCG Top 100s Tour events


Subscribe to NCG