Two specific rules come into play when a ball, or ball-marker, starts shifting on the putting surface. Our Rules of Golf guru has what you need to know

We’ve all had it. We get onto a green, we’re addressing for a shot, or we’ve lifted and replaced, and the ball starts moving.

It’s easy to get into a panic, and it’s easy for your playing partners to get the wrong idea. But when a ball or ball-marker accidentally moves on the putting green, there are two specific sections of Rule 13.1d that can come into play.

You’ll need to know both, so let’s get stuck in…

Golf rules when a ball accidentally moves on the green

When you’ve accidentally caused the ball to move on the putting green

Think Dustin Johnson at the US Open back in 2016 and you’ll get the clearest example of this in action. DJ actually got penalised that day but a local rule was soon issued that then found its way into the Rules of Golf revamp in 2019.

Rule 13.1d (1) now says there is no penalty if you, your opponent in match play, or another player in stroke play accidentally moves your ball or ball-marker on the green.

You simply replace the ball on its original spot – estimate if you don’t know where that is – or place a ball-marker to mark that original spot.

There is an exception that a ball must be played as it lies when a ball begins to move during a backswing, or stroke, and the stroke is made.  

If the ball has been moved by natural forces

We’re talking about wind, water, gravity or anything else that’s natural which intervenes and shifts your golf ball.

When this happens, where you will play from next depends on whether you’d already lifted and replaced the ball on the green. If you had, you must replace it on the spot from which it moved. If you don’t know where that spot was, you take your best guess.

There isn’t an option to play it from where it lies. If you do so, or if you forget to put the ball back and make a stroke, you will have played from a wrong place and will incur the general penalty (two shots or loss of hole in match play) for a breach of Rule 13.1d (2).

If the ball had not been lifted and replaced then it’s very easy. Just play it from its new spot.

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.

What is the strangest occasion you’ve had a golf ball move on the putting green? Why not let me know about it with a tweet.

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

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