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Rules of Golf

Rules Review: Can I place a club on the ground to help me line up a shot?

November 26, 2022
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J.D. Cuban

Training aids are their own golf cottage industry, and alignment sticks might be the granddaddy of them all. They’re so ubiquitous that tour players have their own bespoke leather “headcovers” to protect them.

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There’s no doubt a stick can literally get you pointed in the right direction when you’re practicing—which is why they’re so popular. But what happens if you want some of that same directional help when you’re actually out playing? Unless you want a two-shot penalty every single time you do it, an alignment aid is off limits—even if you (or your caddie) remove it before you make your swing.

Rule 10-2 is very specific on this point. You can use your club or a part of your body to touch the ground on an intended line of play as you work out what shot you want to hit, but if you (or your caddie) sets an object down as a guide, it’s two strokes. And yes, setting something down along your toe line or outside the target line as a way of validating your setup position counts as “determining line of play.”

The Rule extends beyond artificial alignment aids like sticks to include caddies positioning themselves on your intended lie to help you with direction. A major rule change in 2019 made that illegal, too, much to the chagrin of Haotong Li. At the Dubai Desert Classic that year, he and his caddie did the previously legal line-up ritual for a putt on the last hole of the tournament, and the two-shot penalty Li received bumped him from a tie for third to a tie for 12th, costing him $100,000 in prize money.

There are a couple of legal alternatives if you’re determined to scratch that alignment itch. You can take your stance on a full shot and hold your club across your chest to see where you’re aimed. On a putt, you’ll see many tour players hold the putter in one hand and place their right palm on the top of their right thigh to get a sense for their aiming precision. You can also steal a visual cue from your local bowling alley and pick a leaf or other natural feature on the ground a few feet in front of your ball on the target line and line up the clubface to that spot before you swing.

Hope that helps you keep things straight. So to speak.