It’s been a bad day on the course and your last Titleist has gone sailing out of bounds. What happens now? Our Rules of Golf guru fills in the gap
Each week, I play golf’s version of Russian Roulette. I’ve got just enough balls to get by and no more. I’m a carrier by nature, so filling my little Sunday bag with a dozen pearls is not what I want.
When things aren’t going to plan, there’s a moment of jeopardy where I’ve usually got two left and about 10 holes still to play.
In three decades of playing golf, I’ve never actually run out. But if I did, would it matter? Could I just tap up my playing partner, or anyone else for that matter, to hand over one of theirs?
What happens if I run out of golf balls?
Rule 4.2 states that a player can “get a conforming ball to play from anyone else, including another player on the course”.
It can be your playing partner, or some random person you’ve never seen before, but if they’re happy to hand a ball over to you – as long as it’s conforming – you can thank them for their kindness and carry on.
If you’re going to tempt fate like this, it’s probably best to ensure you’ve got some charity-minded folks around you, though.
In the unlikely event they’re not inclined, or can’t spare one themselves, you’re not going to be able to finish the round.
Hang on? What about that time when Stevie Williams was fretting that Tiger Woods was down to his last ball when he was annihilating everyone at the 2000 US Open at Pebble Beach? Couldn’t he just have borrowed one too?
Yes, but many professional tournaments have in place something known as the one ball rule.
If that’s in effect, as it is for The Open for example, you must use the same brand and type of ball. That level of detail goes right down to the difference between, say, a Pro V1x with a dash and one without.
While Tiger could have borrowed a ball, it would have had to have been the exact same brand and model as that he’d already played.
And an error can prove very costly. Russell Henley, at the 2019 Mayakoba Classic, got hit with eight shots (two for each breach) after he realised he’d used a slightly different model of ball on four holes.
So while you can tap up those around you at club level, it’s probably better to avoid any stress and just pack a couple of extra balls into your bag. You never know when you might need them.
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 of this golf ball rule and have you ever run out of golf balls? Let me know by leaving a comment on X.