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refurbished golf balls playing the wrong ball in match play

I’ve played the wrong ball in a pairs game – do we lose the hole?

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?

england golf

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. 

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 wrong ball rules? 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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