Can you change your ball? Here’s what the rules say


Are there any situations where you don’t need to finish the hole with the same ball with which you started? Our Rules of Golf expert has the answer

You’re an eagle-eyed lot, aren’t you? There was plenty going on when Scottie Scheffler tangled with a bush during the final hole of the third round of the Masters at Augusta National.

He had to locate his ball, decide whether to hit it, remove some loose impediments, take unplayable ball relief, and then hit an incredible iron from 237-yards on his way to rescuing a bogey. That was quite a lot to take in in just a few minutes and I wrote more about the incident at the time.

But there was one aspect that some of you, and many on social media, focused upon when Scheffler got ready to hit that impossible iron shot.

His ball.

Nothing gets past you. Scheffler hit a Titleist off the tee, but when he dropped in taking unplayable ball relief it was a different numbered Titleist that came to rest in the pine needles.

So how was this possible? Let’s take a look…

Can you change your ball when taking relief in golf?

Ordinarily, you must hole out with the same ball you started with on the teeing area. It’s the principal feature of Rule 6.3, which covers a ball used in the play of a hole.

There are exceptions to this, though, and one of them came into play when Scheffler found himself in that tricky spot on Augusta’s final hole.

Rule 6.3b says you can substitute a ball when taking relief under a Rule. That includes when either “dropping a ball or placing a ball (such as when a ball will not stay in the relief area or when taking relief on the putting green)” and it allows you to either use your original ball or another ball.

It’s laid out in all its detail in Rule 14.3a, which covers when the original or another ball can be used and that choice applies whether it’s free or penalty relief.

The Rule says: “This means that a player may use any ball each time he or she drops or places a ball under this rule.”

This was one of the big changes to the rules in 2019 and was designed to clear up what the R&A and USGA had felt was a confusing smorgasbord where you had to use the original ball when taking some forms of relief but not others. You have to admit, it is much simpler nowadays.

So can you always change your ball in any circumstances? Not quite. If you’ve lifted your ball and the rules insist it must be replaced on its original spot, say you’re doing so to identify it for instance, then – apart from a couple of special cases – you’ve got to stick with the ball with which you started.

Have a question for our Rules of Golf expert?

Despite the simplification of the Rules of Golf at the beginning of 2019, there are still some that leave us scratching our heads. And as I’ve passed the R&A’s level 2 rules exam with distinction, I am more than happy to help and I’ll feature the best in this column. I’ve obviously been quite popular in recent weeks as I’ve got a huge backlog of enquiries and I’ll try to come back to you in due course.

Click here for the full Rules of Golf explained archive and details of how to submit a question to our expert.

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