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Rules of Golf Review: My opponent stopped my ball from rolling on purpose. Is that a penalty?

December 07, 2023
456091300

BEN STANSALL

You probably read the headline above and wondered how could it possibly not be a penalty when you're opponent purposely stops your golf ball from rolling. Well, you're mostly right.

In almost every case, it is a penalty when your opponent does this. It's loss of hole in match play, and in stroke play, the player would get hit with a two-shot penalty for violating this rule. It doesn't matter, too, if they physically stopped it or if he or she used something else to stop it. Furthermore, you can't stop your own ball in motion. Just ask Phil Mickelson about that. He was famously docked two strokes at the 2018 U.S. Open for putting his ball while it was still in motion.

Rule 11.2 has all of this covered, including the few times when it is not a penalty to stop a moving ball (you knew there had to be a catch, right?). Your opponent, for instance would not be penalized for stopping a ball that had to be holed for a particular hole to be tied. The Rules of Golf uses the phrase "reasonable chance" to cover this instance. So if a putt goes steaming past the hole and there's no reason to believe it will back up and fall in, the ball can be stopped without penalty. Also, it can be stopped as a concession (see Rule 3.2).

There also is another instance when a moving ball can be purposely stopped. Can you guess? Albeit rare, a ball being moved by water can be grabbed. The rule: There is no penalty if a player lifts his or her ball moving in water, or temporary water or in a penalty area when taking relief under Rules 16.1 or 17. You might recall this happening during the 2023 Charles Schwab Challenge on the PGA Tour when eventual winner Emiliano Grillo hit his tee shot into a working aqueduct to the right of the fairway on the 72nd hole of the tournament.

What should you do if your ball is purposely deflected or stopped? In most cases, you would estimate where the ball would have come to rest if it had not been interfered with and play from there. You do not play from the spot where a deflected ball stopped. Consult Rule 11.2c to learn how to proceed (it depends on where the ball would have likely come to rest, including in penalty areas and out of bounds).

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