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fourball

What happens if my fourball partner plays the wrong ball?

Does this mistake cost the team or the individual in a match situation? Our expert is on hand

 

If you’ve ever taken part in a summer or winter fourball competition, David Cook’s email may well resonate with you.

“I have just finished playing our club 4BBB final,” he wrote. “On the tee of the 11th hole me and my partner were 1-down. 

“My partner played his second shot with the wrong ball – it was a stray ball that he mistakenly took for his own. I won the hole.

“However, when it was realised that my partner had played the wrong ball, we didn’t know the ruling. We phoned our club pro, who said he was 95% certain that it was loss of hole for us, so we were 2-down rather than level. We played the rest of the match believing that we were 2-down after the 11th. What is the correct ruling?”

fourball

Fourball rules: Does a penalty apply to both partners?

This once happened to me – long before I began my journey into the Rules – and I believed the penalty applied to both partners in the side. I was wrong.

Rule 23.9a (1) says when a player gets a penalty other than being disqualified it normally only applies to that player and not also to their partner.

In match play, the player who gets a general penalty can’t see their score count for on that hole.

“But this penalty has no effect on the partner, who may continue to play for the side on that hole.”

Rule 23.9a (2) outlines three situations where a player’s penalty also applies to a partner: when they breach the limit of 14 clubs, shared, added, or replaced clubs; when the player’s breach helps their partner’s play; and, in match play, when a player’s breach hurts an opponent’s play.

But, as you’ll have gathered by now, this situation is not one of them. In fact, it’s expressly stated as an exception. It says a player who makes a stroke a wrong ball is “not treated as having helped [their] partner’s play or hurt opponent’s play”.

So, to repeat, while David’s partner gets the general penalty for playing the wrong ball, which is a breach of Rule 6.3c, that penalty doesn’t affect David.

The exception states this is true “whether the ball played as a wrong ball belongs to the partner, an opponent, or anyone else”.

If you’re playing a format with slightly different rules to individual stroke play, make sure you take a look through Rule 23 on fourballs and Rule 22 on foursomes and familiarise yourselves with the differences.

Got a question for our expert?

Despite the changes to the Rules of Golf in 2019 and 2023, there are still some that leave us scratching our heads. I’ll try to help by featuring the best of your queries in this column.

What do you think about these fourball rules and fourball in general? Let me know by leaving a comment on X.

Steve Carroll

Steve Carroll

A journalist for 25 years, Steve has been immersed in club golf for almost as long. A former club captain, he has passed the Level 3 Rules of Golf exam with distinction having attended the R&A's prestigious Tournament Administrators and Referees Seminar.

Steve has officiated at a host of high-profile tournaments, including Open Regional Qualifying, PGA Fourball Championship, English Men's Senior Amateur, and the North of England Amateur Championship. In 2023, he made his international debut as part of the team that refereed England vs Switzerland U16 girls.

A part of NCG's Top 100s panel, Steve has a particular love of links golf and is frantically trying to restore his single-figure handicap. He currently floats at around 11.

Steve plays at Close House, in Newcastle, and York GC, where he is a member of the club's matches and competitions committee and referees the annual 36-hole scratch York Rose Bowl.

Having studied history at Newcastle University, he became a journalist having passed his NTCJ exams at Darlington College of Technology.

What's in Steve's bag: TaylorMade Stealth 2 driver, 3-wood, and hybrids; TaylorMade Stealth 2 irons; TaylorMade Hi-Toe, Ping ChipR, Sik Putter.

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