As golfers, we all have them: decorative or logo ball markers of plastic, wood or metal that settle to the bottom of a ball pocket in our golf bag, or reside on a hat clip. They give us a smile when one from a memorable trip or golf day is pulled out to be used for the round that is about to begin.
But they have a serious function too. Understanding the little rules associated with ball markers will save us from making a mistake that costs a penalty stroke in either match and stroke play. It could even prevent us from being disqualified for not recording a penalty that we have incurred before returning our scorecard.
Here are five potentially stroke-saving points on how to mark your golf ball.
1. ACCIDENTALLY MOVING YOUR BALL OR THE MARKER
A ball marker holds or identifies the position on the course for a ball that has been lifted under the Rules of Golf. This happens most often on the putting green, where players mark, then lift and clean their golf ball prior to putting. One has to be careful when marking a ball. If pulling out the marker spills tees and coins from our pocket onto the ball accidentally causing the ball to move, we have incurred a one-stroke penalty. The reverse is also true. In replacing the ball, if we accidentally drop the ball and it strikes the marker causing it to flip or move to a new position, we also incur a one-stroke penalty. Rule 18-2
2. HAND, BALL, MARKER
The rules exempt us from penalty in the process of lifting or replacing the ball only if the player is right at the ball so that her hand, the marker and the ball are right next to each other. In that case if we flinch, lose our balance or jerk our hand and cause either the ball or the marker to move, we are not penalized as it is considered to be directly attributable to the process of marking or lifting.
3. SPANNING OR REPLACING YOUR MARKER
Another common error that occurs on the putting green happens when another player asks if we could replace our large decorative marker with a small flat one. While we could just span the marker a club-head length or more out of the line of putt, frequently we simply flip the large marker out and replaces it with the small one. Technically this means there is a time when the position of the ball is not accurately marked. Even though this is just a second or two, it is not allowed. This action requires a one-stroke penalty that could easily be avoided using the proper procedure: Just replace the ball, lift the large marker and replace it with the smaller one. No breach of the rules here. Rule 20-1
4. ALIGNING YOUR BALL PRIOR TO PUTTING
While the ball marker is in place, a player may touch the ball and adjust the position of the ball on the green. Many players align the trade mark or pole mark on the ball with their line of putt. If we lift the ball maker and then want to readjust the ball, we need to replace the marker before the ball is touched again. Frequently though, we just reach down and realign the line on the ball without replacing the marker. Even if the ball is not lifted from the green (which some players think makes this procedure allowed) it is a one-stroke penalty under Rule 18-2 for purposely touching the ball in play. Avoid that penalty by replacing the maker.
5. MARKING A FELLOW-COMPETITOR’S OR OPPONENT’S BALL
To facilitate pace of play, players frequently ask if they may mark a fellow-competitor’s or opponent’s ball on the putting green. While this is a courtesy in stroke play, it is critical in match play to receive permission. If we mark and lift an opponent’s ball in match play without her permission, we incur a one-stroke penalty. In stroke play there is no penalty, but, again, it is a courtesy to ask before marking and lifting someone else’s ball. Rule 18-3b
Know and understand these few simple rules and avoid an unnecessary penalty on the putting green.