Rules Review

Rules of Golf Review: Can I be penalized if someone else improves my lie?

November 18, 2023

Alan Thornton

Most golfers know that a player is responsible for the actions of his or her caddie, including times when the caddie does things that run counter to the Rules of Golf. It's a team thing (Rule 10.3), as amateur Segundo Oliva Pinto learned painfully when he was bounced in the third round at the 2020 U.S. Amateur after his caddie mistakenly swiped sand in a bunker with his hand.

But what happens when someone else helps you out during the round? For example, what if you see someone pick up your ball out of the rough to identify it, and when the ball is replaced, the lie is improved? Or what if you ask someone to move a loose impediment next to your ball and the ball moves as a result? Another common situation is when a spectator scoops up a ball during a tournament, and when the ball is put back where it originally came to rest, it's done in a manner that gives the player an advantage. This sort of happened to Nelly Korda at the 2022 Amudi Evian Championship.

The rules are very clear when it comes to instances when the actions of another person breach a rule for you. It doesn't matter who the person is, the key is whether you are aware of the rules violation before continuing play.

Rule 1.3c covers this topic: "A penalty applies when another person takes an action that would breach the rules if taken by the player or caddie, and that person does so at the player’s request or while acting with the player’s authority.

"Or the player sees another person about to take an action concerning the player’s ball or equipment that he or she knows would breach the rules if taken by the player or caddie, and does not take reasonable steps to object or stop it from happening."

In short, if you see someone about to do something to your ball or clubs that would be a rules violation for you if you did it, and you don't do anything about it, it's as if you commited the penalty. So when you see someone about to foot wedge your ball back into the fairway, you better stop them.